Authors: Chris Myers
Tags: #Contemporary Romance, #ebooks, #New Adult, #psychological thriller, #Romance, #new adult romance, #Romantic Suspense, #Thriller
The characters, places, and events in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. All characters, except historical and public figures, are products of the author’s imagination and should not be construed as real. In the case of historical and public figures, the situations, events, and dialogues of those people are fictional and do not depict actual events. In all other respects, any similarity to real person, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Copyright © 2015 by Chris Myers
All rights reserved. This book is protected under the copyright laws of the United States of America. Any reproduction or other unauthorized use of the material or artwork herein is prohibited without the express written permission of the author.
Cover photo: Shutterstock
Cover design: Books on the Edge
Published by Books on the Edge
This book is dedicated to the readers.
The one memory I have from that day in the swamp lies hazed in fog and plays in my mind like a recurring nightmare. I’m eight, and I’m running for my life.
I feel him drawing nearer, so I don’t stop. I scramble over tree roots and trip on berry bushes. When I stumble, they scrape my hands and burn my knees. My heart thumps so loudly it almost drowns out the bugs’ annoying song and frogs croaking.
Don’t let him get me. Don’t let the monster hurt me.
The swamp smothers me with its decaying stink and damp heat. The afternoon light slants through the white cedars, casting shadows that spook me and send me tumbling into the brier.
I can’t stop. I have to go right quick. I have to run.
From the dark brown ponds, black gum trees grow trunks as wide as tractor tires. Their gnarled branches snag my clothes, slowing me down and shredding the new blouse and shorts Daddy bought me.
Blood mats my hair into a sticky mess. My head pounds, like the surf during a hurricane. Tears sting my eyes, blurring them. A scene of crimson gore fills my vision—so much blood flooding my thoughts.
I glance over my shoulder—nothing behind me but plants growing wildly out of control, bugs that bite and suck the life out of me, and the flicker of daylight in the trees. And a shadow, unmoving, quiet and deadly.
Is that the monster? Terror scrabbles up my throat. I keep running.
The gravel path leading out is dead ahead of me, and it’s another short jog or so to my bike. I bolt down the road until something snags my collar from behind.
It got me. No. No. No.
Fear takes over, and I scream. The arm spins me around, and I stare into Dare’s green-brown eyes. He looks at me as if I’ve lost my mind.
But that don’t matter to me right now. Fright rises up inside me and strangles my thoughts. “Don’t let him get me,” I cry, even though Dare’s not big enough to help me this time. He’s only eleven. The monster will get him too.
His gaze runs along my muddy, torn clothes and the blood smeared all over my shorts. My shirt hangs off one shoulder, exposing my lack of boobies. I jerk up my shirtsleeve to cover myself, like Mama taught me.
“What the hell happened to you, Teal?”
I tug on his arm to get goin’. “He’s gonna get us.”
Biting and licking his lower lip, he scans the area behind me. Fear spreads like an unstoppable fire in his eyes. “There’s blood all over you. Your head is…why did somebody try to kill you?”
I reach for the top of my head, a throb pulsing there.
“Don’t mess with it,” Dare says, shackling my hand with his. “It’s bad. Talk to me, Teal.”
Tears flood my eyes. “I don’t remember.” Everything has gone missing from my head, except running. I’m not even sure what I’m running from anymore, but it’s very bad and hairy. My head thumps loudly.
He plants his hands on both my shoulders. “Calm down.”
I spin back toward the swamp. It’s alive, shadows sweeping over it while clouds scud across the sky. Puke climbs my throat, and the swamp twirls around me. My knees suddenly give out, and the world goes dark.
When I come to, Dare is gone, and black spots creep along the edges of my vision. I’m cuddled up in his jacket in the hollowed out tree where we sometimes hide from his big brothers.
“Dare,” I whisper. It’s grown dark, so I can just make out the shapes of trees and I can hear the nearby river and the hum of insects.
Where did he go? Did the monster get him?
Terror pumps my body into action. I have to run. I have to get out of the swamp. I scramble to a standing position. My head’s hurtin’ so bad stars halo my vision. Just as my legs take flight, Dare steps out of a clump of knobby cypress knees, holding a flashlight. Blood drips off him, and his hands are shaking.
I take a step back. There’s so much blood. My knees wobble, so I lean against a tree for support.
Buzzing inside my head overloads me. “Make it stop,” I cry. I slow my breathing before the menacing darkness and the dreadful noise can gobble me up again.
Dare doesn’t speak. He just stares blankly ahead. He isn’t even blinking. His shoulders sag, and his mouth gapes open, like the cat’s got his tongue.
I walk slowly toward him and shake his trembling arm. “Dare?”
To the left of him, lights glimmer in the woods. “Teal,” several people shout. “Teal?”
My hand slips into his, grazing the bands of friendship bracelets that he holds sacred. I stand stock-still and tightly squeeze his hand.
A bloodhound sniffs his way toward me. When he starts to howl, a deputy restrains the dog. About twenty men and women carrying flashlights plod into the clearing.
Daddy jogs toward me and picks me up. “Oh my sweet darlin’. I was so worried about you.”
I let go of Dare to wrap my arms around Daddy’s neck. “Oh, Daddy. Don’t let him hurt me.”
He studies me for a moment and glances accusingly at Dare. “What happened to you, honey? Who hurt you?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know.” Caked mud on my cheeks catches the torrent of tears bursting from my eyes.
The deputy studies Dare. “How’d ya get all covered in blood, son? Is that the girl’s? What did you do to that girl’s clothes?”
Dare doesn’t move, and he doesn’t speak. Blood pools at his feet.
“I’m speaking to you, son,” the deputy barks, shaking Dare’s shoulder until Dare loses his footing and falls.
“Don’t hurt Dare,” I yell, the agonizing pain searing my head.
“What did you do to my little girl?” Daddy shouts at Dare. “Answer me. What did you do?”
Dare’s mouth hangs open, the blood dripping from his fingertips. My head swims. I don’t feel so good, and fuzzy spots creep along the outskirts of my vision. Don’t let everything go all black again.
The deputy grabs Dare roughly by the arm, hauling him upward. “You’re coming with me, son.”
“Leave him alone,” I scream. “He didn’t do anything.”
“Let the deputy do his job,” Daddy says, picking me up and cradling me in his arms.
The deputy takes Dare away. He glances back at me. From the dread in his eyes, I know he’s seen the slaughter too.
In the dark, I walk outside of the Raleigh airport, allowing the heat and humidity to suck the breath from me. Stepping onto North Carolina ground is like walking on razor blades, each step slicing me to the bone. I can do this. I’m cured.
“Home, sweet home,” I mutter.
I keep telling myself that coming home is for my grandmother Lulu who’s partially blind, but it’s also for me.
Daddy had someone drop off the Range Rover somewhere in the parking lot.
I swivel around. “Where the heck is it?” I vaguely remember where he told me. Aisle eight or eighteen?
It’s been two years since I stepped foot in this state, and already my nerves fire with trepidation.
After twenty minutes of hunting, I finally find the black SUV. It’s not a good color for the oppressive Carolina sun that’ll soon climb over the horizon. My skirt hitches up as I slide into the car, and the leather sticks to my legs. I unglue my legs by gathering my skirt under my thighs.
The stale scent of her perfume that she spilled years ago wafts off the seats. If I don’t remember what Mama looks like, how can I recall the Chanel Number 5 she wore?
When I was eight, she left without a word and without a trace, no goodbye, no address, just gone. I should feel something like anger, hate from being abandoned, but I don’t. I feel nothing for her.
She left a few days before search and rescue found me in Gator Swamp. That’s when the blackouts started—my lost moments in time. I’d give anything to remember something about her, other than the scent lingering on her skin. That’s not much of a memory. I don’t even know if I liked her at one time.
Because of the treatments for memory loss, I probably have more headshots than the Mona Lisa, which I’ve seen in the Louvre a dozen times over the past two years. The doctors don’t really know what caused my blackouts. Some think epilepsy. I’ve had one seizure, and that occurred shortly after the day I was found in the swamp.
One believed I was schizophrenic, which could be the case. I felt crazy when all I wanted to be is normal. At one time, I most certainly fit part of the description—lose touch with reality, blackouts. I definitely had panic disorder because when the flashes of light and jumbled images swirl in my head, I freaked because I knew what was coming next—another moment in time gone, completely erased from my memory bank, a blackout.
While Daddy and I lived in Paris, the blackouts disappeared. I’ve been deemed cured by French doctors with no explanation, no solid diagnosis, and no recovered lost memories. No one has ever told me why part of my life is a blank canvas.
Daddy remains in Paris, finishing up his work at the consulate. I volunteered to fly home to care for Lulu and endure her crude jokes.
As I pull out of the parking lot, sweat beads on my forehead. It could be the thick-as-spit humidity, but the itchiness spreading over my arms like poison ivy tells me it’s my raw and shattered nerves. I’ve driven all over Europe but never in the States, so that must be the reason.
Using hands-free, I call Daddy. “I found the SUV.”
“Glad to hear you made it there safely. I’m in a meeting, so I will call you later. Love you, Darlin’.”
“Love you too, Daddy.”
The drive from Raleigh to the coast brings back some memories, countless days on the beach, boogey boarding, the kids torturing me when I blacked out.
Many memories remain lost and buried. As hard as the shrinks tried to dig them out from the dark recesses of my mind, they never surfaced. The doctors told me I could live with that.
I drive toward the Outer Banks. My nervousness doesn’t ease, so I tap on the steering wheel without the rhythm of music.
Before college starts in the fall, I have to get through the whole summer with kids I no longer know, but at least it won’t be with a bunch of Parisians correcting my French or teasing me about my drawl. I never really fit in Paris, but many times, it was far worse here.
I cross over the Alligator River, closing in on Kill Devil Hills, my home. I can almost smell the sea breeze lifting off the water and feel the scorch of sand between my toes. I miss the beach and the water curling around my feet like soft slippers.
The Alligator River National Park stretches before me. Its swamp grasses are thick with gators, snakes, and yellow and deer flies that could chew off a man’s arm.
The morning sun climbing the horizon bathes the long, thin blades of sawgrass in its golden glow. I used to love the swamp’s haunted beauty of black gum, Atlantic white cedar, and cypress trees decorated in Spanish moss and loblolly pines reaching for the sky, but now the swamp settles into my gut like rotted meat. I stomp on the gas to race through it as fast as possible.