The beautiful Gatlinburg night enveloped the McCannon brothers in deep blue velvet. The beginning of June, usually blistering hot this time of year, felt cool.
Flowers bloomed everywhere and the sent of Magnolia blossoms perfumed the air for miles.
Stars, bright, shiny, like a million tiny diamonds, bedecked the cloudless sky. The night provided exactly what eighteen-year-old Zachariah McCannon and his brother, seventeen-year-old Matt, needed.
Pink Azalea bushes and ruby red roses surrounded the new Amphitheater. Crossing the parking lot, the bass throbbed through the bottom of their shoes, making the brothers all the more anxious to get inside. They rarely got to be normal teenagers, and planned to enjoy every second of the concert. Inside, speakers boomed with the music from the rock band on stage. The amps pulsed with the beat and had the sold-out crowd going wild. Zack and Matt were no different. The group performing was their favorite and they sang along to each song. When the lead guitarist cut loose, Zack joined in with his own air guitar.
When the group started the next song, Zack and Matt jumped to their feet, clapping and yelling in time to the music. Stage lights switched from red to purple, reflecting on their faces.
“Isn’t this great?” Matt proclaimed during a drum solo, his eyes bright.
“It’s fantastic,” Zack agreed, whistling. “I’m glad we were able to get tickets. I love this group.”
“Me too. It sure beats sitting in a motel room, watching boring T.V. That’s for sure. You know, Zack, we should do this more often. I’m really having a good time.” Matt picked up his soda, taking a long sip and eating a few nachos before the start of the next song.
Zack studied his brother for a moment, noting how relaxed and happy he seemed, something rare in their life lately. He nodded, agreeing. “Maybe we will, but Matt, we have to be careful. You know we do.”
Matt shook his head and groaned inwardly even though no one was able to hear him. “Not tonight, Zack. Please. Let’s just have a good time, okay?”
Zack nodded again, then grinned a little. “Okay, not tonight.” Jabbing his brother in the ribs, he added, “You know you sound like a girl when you sing?”
“Ha! Ha! Maybe I do, but I still sound better than you.” He turned, about to take another sip of his soda, when his eyes locked on the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen. She swayed to the music and his heart simply stopped beating.
She looked to be about sixteen, with the body of a dancer, fluid, elegant, and poised. Red flowing hair cascaded to her waste and the most intense green eyes were watching him. His adolescent hormones soared.
“Matt?” Zack turned at his little brother’s lack of movement. He just stood and stared. Zack followed Matt’s gaze and his eyes fell on the object of Matt’s attention.
“Wow!” Zack proclaimed.
“Tell me about it,” Matt said, swallowing hard. Taking a chance, he waved once, his nerves sparking when she ducked her head, then glanced at him from the corner of her eye. He scanned the area around her and she seemed to be alone. Gesturing for her to join them, he straightened when she began to walk over, her eyes never leaving his.
“Hi. I’m Kira. You sure are cute.” She batted her lashes. Matt swallowed again. The girl was definitely not shy. He grinned.
Kira shuffled her feet. Matt wanted to reach out and touch her hair. It looked like pure silk. He shoved his hands in his pocket instead, his hormones kicking into overdrive.
Beside him, Zack cleared his throat, but Kira paid him no mind.
“Ahh…this is my brother, Zack.”
“Hello,” Zack said, putting on his best grin.
“Nice to meet you,” Kira replied, looking at Matt. Zack rolled his eyes. She leaned in and touched Matt’s shoulder. “Want to dance?”
“Sure,” Matt said readily. He glanced once at his brother, his expression showing he couldn’t believe his good luck.
“I like to dance,” Zack mumbled, irked at being ignored.
The band played one of their slower songs and Kira led Matt to a platform the Amphitheater set up for people who wanted to dance. They put their arms around each other and began to sway to the music.
The two acted as if they were the only ones in the whole theater. At first, they gazed into each other’s eyes, her hands on his shoulder and his arms around her waist, standing several inches apart. In a moment, they touched foreheads and her hands slid around his neck. By the second verse, he pulled her to his chest and she rested her head between his collar bone and chin—a perfect fit.
Just before the song ended, she raised her head enough to pull on his earlobe with her teeth, the sensation making him crazy. Matt knew he had fallen helplessly in love—inside of five minutes—a new record for him.
When the song ended, they walked back to Zack, with his arms crossed, scowling. Matt held Kira’s hand and she laid her head on his shoulders as if they had been together forever.
With almost hypnotic eyes, Kira glanced at Zack over Matt’s shoulder and Zack felt paralyzed. She really is pretty, he thought.
An hour later Matt tapped Zack on the arm. “I’m going for another soda. You want one?”
“No. I’m good.”
“Kira?” Matt turned to her, “You want anything from the snack bar?”
“Okay, I’ll be right back.”
Kira nodded and Matt left. She turned her attention to Zack and stared.
After and awkward moment, he asked, “What?”
“You’re cuter than your brother, you know.”
Zack grinned, “I know. I’m older too.”
She laughed. “I can tell.”
“You seem more…mature. I like that.”
His chest puffed out at the compliment, even as his head warned him to quit flirting. His brother had seen her first. Instead, he heard his mouth say, “So what are you doing with Matt?” Zack cocked his head to the side, studying her, but she didn’t answer. Instead she rose up on tiptoes and kissed him on the mouth, then hugged him tightly. Something like electricity flooded his veins. He tried to step away, but her eyes mesmerized him and his lips wanted hers again.
Matt came through the crowd just as Zack leaned in and whispered something in Kira’s ear that had the girl giggling. She hugged him again.
“Hey, Zack!” Matt stormed up and pulled Kira back by the arm. “What’s going on?”
Zack shrugged. “Nothing. I was just talking to Kira, here.”
“It looks like you were doing more than that,” Matt fumed.
“What?” Confused, Zack turned to face his brother.
“She was dancing with me. Leave her alone.”
“Matt, calm down. We just met her.”
“You were flirting with my girlfriend.”
Shaking his head, Zack said, “She’s not your girlfriend.”
Matt shoved him.
“Cut it out. What’s the matter with you?” Zack shoved him back.
“You were flirting with her!”
“She was flirting right back!”
“Stay away from her, Zack. I mean it.” Matt turned to address Kira, but she had disappeared in the crowd and he couldn’t find her anywhere.
Zack stared at Matt as if he’d gone crazy.
“See what you’ve done?” Matt jabbed a finger at him.
Zack still stared, not knowing what to say.
“What?” Matt asked.
“Nothing,” Zack replied. “Let’s just go.”
“Fine!” Matt huffed and they headed to their SUV.
Outside of the Amphitheater, away from the crowd, Kira stretched, eyes glinting. She laughed as she turned back into Alanya. The Destroyer sneered and headed back to the cave where he lived, his plan working beautifully.
* * *
The ride to the motel filled with silence. Street lights flashed by to reveal two scowling faces. In their room, Zack tossed the keys on the nightstand, where they clattered against the lamp.
Matt threw himself on his bed, legs straight out, arms folded.
“I can’t believe you did that to me,” he fumed. “Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve had a date?”
“And you just had to cut in! Thanks for nothing!”
“Why couldn’t you let me have this one night out without ruining it? Just one!”
“Matt, she came onto me.”
“Uh huh. Sure she did.”
“Why would I lie about that?”
“I dunno. Same reason you’d steal my girlfriend.”
“She was not your girlfriend!”
Matt clicked on the TV, refusing to listen to, or even look at his brother.
A few sullen hours passed and Zack tried one more time.
“Matt.” Zack went over to sit on the bed opposite his little brother.
Matt sighed. “Yeah. I’m sorry. I don’t know what got in to me. She was so pretty and I thought it was cool she liked me instead of you. I don’t know why I got so angry. It was like I couldn’t control myself.”
“Well, she was pretty. Anyway, we’ll probably never see her again. Don’t even worry about it.” Zack rose to take off his shirt and climbed into bed.
Matt stole a glance. “Are we okay?”
Grinning, Zack said, “We’re okay.” Both of them lay down and fell asleep instantly.
Several hours later, Matt began to toss and turn in his sleep as the dream began. He was in a cave, the darkness almost impenetrable. He could hear water dripping into a pool just ahead of him and it seemed like the cave howled. He felt compelled to come to the cave. He needed to find something there, but he didn’t know what it was. The darkness of the cave began swirling and solidifying until it became a figure and started chasing Matt, trying to grab him. He ran for the opening but it kept getting further and further away. The darkness washed over him and he felt pure evil. No matter what he did, he couldn’t escape it. It was so tangible he could almost reach out and touch it.
Again he ran for the opening. The evil grew worse, making him sick. He had to get out of there. Just about to reach the mouth of the cave, something grabbed him from behind. In the dream he screamed.
Matt jumped straight up in bed, his heart beating a million times a minute, and sweat soaking him. Instinctively he knew the dream was a vision. He needed to go to the cave because it held something he needed to get. Zack was still asleep so Matt went to the bathroom for a shower. When he finished, he looked on his computer to find the cave’s location as he waited for his big brother to wake up.