From Chapter One:
Rock Charisma Begins…


  Dale Rhodes paced the concrete floor beneath his feet like an animal in a cage...lean, lithe, and brooding.  As dangerous as a trapped panther.  Or a man headed for the gallows.  Just then, he felt like one.  And not at all like the biggest rock star in the world, with an arena full of fans outside…screaming for him.

  He stood backstage alone, in the VIP dressing room...trying to prepare.  The show was at Pickens arena, 5 miles outside of Los Angeles.  The venue had sold out in six minutes.  And a crowd of twenty thousand people waited for him to grace the stage.  They called his name.  Pleading, demanding that he make his appearance.  They chanted the name of his band.  "Wick-ers! Wick-ers! Wickers!"  He could hear their cries, muffled by the 8-inch-thick walls surrounding him.

  Their voices didn’t move him.  They only added to his misery.  He was trapped.  Pushed into a corner.  He rubbed at his eyes.  And he was tired...bone tired.  In no shape to sing.  The cinder block paneled walls seemed to close in all around him.  He shook off a feeling of dread.  Lately, nothing felt right.  Ever since that letter had come.  It had changed everything.

  Why had he opened it?  He’d wished a thousand times that he hadn't.  He usually didn't even touch the mail.  A tedious chore.  Someone else's job.  But that day, he was at the offices and bored...waiting for some papers to sign.  The bright red envelope, buried in a pile of fan mail, caught his attention.  And lured him in.  It was November, then.  An early Christmas greeting...he had assumed.

  He’d peeled open the envelope, pulled out the letter inside, and admired its handiwork.  Calligraphy.  The painted characters were beautiful and intricate.  And the paper was special.  Expensive.  Quite old.  And it crackled like papyrus.  The missive was a miniature masterpiece, with a border of gold doves surrounded by multi-colored stars.  Someone had spent a lot of time working on it.  Their creation wasn't just a letter, but a hand-made card.  An announcement perhaps.  Or an invitation.  The front of the card read, "Merry Christmas."  Dale had flipped it open.  The message inside was much more sinister.

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