1 | Kyle

Ablaze in the distance like a furious bonfire consuming the darkness, the glowing city lights broke the back of the Nevada desert. A beacon of licentious exploits or the harbinger of their lingering consequences? Whichever, or both, its allure pulled on Kyle Mallory like a magnet, sinking his right foot to the floor.

“Kyle, slow down. Kyle…? Kyle!”

The slap on the thigh more than Sadie’s shouts wrenched him from the trance and he eased off the accelerator.

“You trying to kill us?” The shrill voice hissed at him like a snake. Part of him longed for the bite.

Like a classic love song, Sadie Clayton’s voice normally carried a gentle tone, sultry in Kyle’s ears. They agreed to be friends back in high school—a decision Kyle respected but occasionally regretted. Sitting beside him, always beside him in the front seat of his car, picturing them as a couple didn’t stretch his imagination. Yet it didn’t fit within the framework of their friendship. Still… The slight wave of her black hair slinking over her ear. How the sudden saturation of white light sculpted her —


Jerking the wheel, panicked fear commandeered his arms and overcompensated. Daydreaming had led his mind and eyes astray, abandoning the road that demanded their attention. A blaring horn receded into the desert and the mirror bade farewell to two dim red lights, consumed by the churning sand and the black of night. Like a Tom and Jerry cartoon, Sadie’s bulging eyes could have pressed into the windshield like pancakes.

The unsettling rocking of the car’s swerve animated the backseat passengers. A slap to the back of his head came from Sadie’s older brother. Kyle didn’t need to see it to know. After a slow breath he said, “Relax, y’all. I got it.”

“I told you you’s too tired to drive… Donny, you need to buckle.” When chastising her brother, her default mode for him, Sadie’s voice dropped its dulcet splendor—and when shrieking at Kyle for almost killing them.

Silent until he noticed Donny’s contribution to the foul odor of the crowded space, Micky began laughing with childish delight.

“Gross, Donny. You’re a disgusting pig.”

His opening his bottle and spitting into it emphasized Sadie’s analogy. All the boys, as Sadie called them, shared in the juvenile laughter.

Despite her desperate clicks, Sadie couldn’t dissipate the lingering stench of flatulence. Power windows and the FM radio were about the only ‘extras’ still working in the 1992 VW. And the window lock button under Kyle’s thumb. Like a popped balloon, her slap filled the cramped two-door Scirocco GT with an echoing boom.

The sting on his arm jerked Kyle’s hand and he pulled hard against the vehicle’s swerving. This time running the right front tire into a pothole along the low shoulder. The next pop could have been a shotgun, a sound they all knew well. The confusion made his foot forget to press the clutch and the engine stalled. Twenty-five miles from Las Vegas, the too-many-hours journey halted.

The thirty-four-year-old little Volkswagen leaned on its forward right quarter panel, its flat tire refusing to carry them to their destination. With hands on their hips, the boys stared at it as if that would do something to get the car moving. In a way, it did.

“You guys are pathetic, you know that?” The glow of her smartphone danced over the bottom of Sadie’s flower-print dress. “Pop the trunk.”

Motes flickered like tiny fireflies in the pale ray of the flashlight beaming from Kyle’s phone. Aiming it over the wheel, he said, “Good thing your dad’s a mechanic, or we’d be stuck out here all night.”

When Sadie looked up at him, her face glimmered as the silvery moonlight caressed her skin. The back of her hand exchanged sweat for greasy dirt on her forehead. She raised the tire iron to point to Donny. “His dad’s a mechanic too, you know? Fat load of good that does him.”

“Hey.” Rarely did Donny have much more of a comeback than that. He spat on the ground at his sister’s feet.

“My dad’s sort of a vet, but don’t expect me to go neutering nobody’s dog.”

“Micky,” Kyle said. “Your dad works at Walmart.”

“Wanna put that light on the wheel and outta my eyes,” Sadie huffed.

Like a street performer’s act, the spinning tire iron twirled with balanced precision. In no time, Sadie had the lug nuts on and snugged up against the wheel. With the jack lowered, she had Kyle give them a final nudge to tighten them. He didn’t mind being the strong man for her.

“That don’t look like the right size,” Micky said.

Sadie pushed out an exhale. “It’s a doughnut. S’pposed to be small. Just for short driving til we get a tire bought and put on.”

A few tissues and the last glugs of hand sanitizer got Sadie’s hands as clean as they were going to be for now. Donny’s back took most of the dripping liquid from her fingers as Micky tossed their bags in the trunk. A clap from the hatchback’s closing signaled all to climb back into the car and the back-seaters climbed behind Sadie’s tilted seat. Before Donny turned to sit, she thrust it back, launching him into Micky and both boys into a laughing fit.

Kyle fumbled with this seatbelt, clanking the metal tongue that couldn’t find the buckle. He puzzled over the sound of corn popping in a microwave. An abrupt violence shook the car as if a semi had barreled by, trying to suck up the little Volkswagen in its wake. Highway 11 was empty. The desert swirled in clouds around them as sand danced in the air, fondling fragments of light falling from the moon.

“Did anyone see that?” Kyle asked, a mix of wonder and panic in his voice.

Donny stuck his head between the front headrests. “See what?”

“The city, it… flickered.”

“You mean the lights we been seeing for the last few miles?” Sadie’s chastising tone stung Kyle’s ears.

“C’mon. No one saw that? It’s like they all switched off for a half second and, I don’t know, twinkled all weird, then went back to normal.”

“I think you been driving too long. We’re all tuckered out.”

“No, Sadie, I’m serious. And didn’t you all feel the car rock a second ago?”

“A truck?” Donny guessed.

“Did you see a truck? Nothing passed, and we weren’t moving. It happened the exact time as the lights.”

The hand on his startled Kyle and Sadie looked into his eyes like only his mom ever did. “Let’s get to the motel. It’s late and we’re all too tired.”

Inching into town on the doughnut, sleepiness yielded to the life of the famous strip. The brightest lights Kyle had ever seen vanquished the night and left no room for shadows. The starry sky disappeared, replaced by a canopy of a living city’s ghostly afterglow. A sensation overload. Billboards. Illuminated buildings that looked like famous landmarks from around the world. The smell of sin saturated the night air. At after three in the morning, the city bustled with greater activity than Atlanta at 5 p.m.

Their budget motel—the cheapest thing on any booking website—tucked itself away a few blocks off the strip. It looked like it had seen better days. An unwelcoming cinder block exterior reminded Kyle of his government housing complex. His mom had raised him there until he got a job and helped with the rent on a double-wide in one of those nicer trailer parks.

Donny and Sadie took the room on the second floor of the two-story dive. Kyle and Micky's ground floor room overlooked the pool. It had only enough water to soak a creepy-looking pile of leaves like something from a B movie horror flick. It would be their last vacation before college—community for Sadie and Micky. Donny had no such ambition. The HOPE Scholarship got Kyle into UGA’s physics program. Being their first road trip, the motel was gloriously fine. Sin City would have to wait, doubtless to be alive and ready for them after a few hours of sleep.

Grab a free read and let your voice be heard by becoming an ARC reader for Tomorrow in Las Vegas. You'll get the first ten chapter instantly and more after your initial comments. ARC readers will receive a free copy of the finished book.