CHANCE THE DARKNESS
#1 of The Dark Series
In the depths of half-human, half-unknown,
Summer Keese's mind, the walls are beginning to crack....
Summer Keese's mind, the walls are beginning to crack....
Tiny circles of light bounce off the foreboding corridors in the depths of Amsterdam’s main hospital. I keep my head down and follow the dark-haired attendant into a small white room.
Biting my bottom lip, I barely notice the twelve metal body drawers stacked along the far wall, or how death reflects in every single one of those shiny doors.
“Thiz iz the one, Mizz Keese,” the young man says, his heavy accent ridged.
Up close, he smells of fresh cigarettes like he’s just come off his break. If I’d a job like his, I’d smoke instead of eat as well.
A loud bang snaps my attention to the last drawer on the corner, the one with the door now open.
His smoke-stained fingers reach inside the dark container, gripping the sides of an embedded tray. He tugs. Runners slide, dragging out a rectangular support with navy-blue sheet covering a body.
A clot the size of a golf ball wedges in my throat. I’m not ready! Put the body back!
I need to leave, get away. Do anything other than just stand here staring at the slender outline of a young woman’s body who could be my sister.
“Mizz, you okay?”
No, I’m not. I’m far from okay. Maybe I should jump into his mind, pick through his memories to see if the body under the covering is her—telepathy has to count for something, right? That way, I don’t have to see for myself. Or, perhaps I could run to the farthest corner of the world and stick my head in the sand until I’m mentally ready to face the truth. But I don’t do any of those things.
“All good.” I scrub my hand over my face. “Let’s get this over with.”
The attendant nods, moving his wiry frame. Shoulders bunch under the lime-green overcoat, blocking my view. I take a moment to get my thoughts under control and my gaze off the navy sheet and what’s concealed beneath it.
“You ready?” Thin fingers pinch two corners of the cover. I hold my breath.
He rolls the material down.
Short black hair with an inch of chestnut regrowth has been combed neat to a young woman’s shoulders. For a split second, relief fills me. “It’s not her. Carla has long brown hair.”
He never says a word, just keeps rolling back the sheet until--oh, God no!
Cold empty shock punches me in the gut. It’s her heart-shaped face; it’s her long dark lashes against pale cheekbones. No doubt it’s my sister, Carla.
Raw pain rips through my gut, blades sawing through my heart. I grit my teeth to prevent myself from screaming over and over, again and again.
“Mizz Summer Keese?” His voice grounds me, keeps me from losing it. “Iz thiz her?”
Tight lipped, I nod.
The attendant dips his head. “I go now. You be alone to say good-bye, yez?” Without another word, he walks from the room.
Tremors rattle my knees. She’s really dead. Twelve hours of clinging to a pebble of hope was all for nothing. The young girl found murdered in another country is my sister.
My sanity slips. Hysteria spreads, black tar creeping under my skin. The darkness crawls along my chest, up my neck, into the whites of my eyes, farther still to the depths of my mind where an avalanche shifts, tumbling me over the edge into an abyss of raw aching pain.
My knees give way, crumbling until bone connects with hard floor tiles. Tears cascade over my cheeks. My sister is dead. I will never talk to her again, never share secrets with her again. We will never spend time together again.
“Matter lasts forever,” a female voice purrs. “The cycle never ends.”
I lift my wet face from my hands. “Hello?”
“Perception is but a veil of obscurity, blinding everyone.”
I swing my shoulders around to the voice. Nothing except empty space exists between me and the open door. “Where are you?”
A moment’s pause. “You hear me?” Delight laces her words.
I push off the floor confused. “Yes, but I can’t see you.”
“What an unusual turn of events. This has never happened before.”
Unease pricks. No one else is alive in the room but me. “Show yourself.”
The crazy lady laughs. “Open your mind, little girl. See what truly is.”
Another glance around confirms my fears. My sister’s death has pushed me over the edge, and my mind has broken because I’m certain this voice speaks from inside my mind.
“Who are you?”
“You have no idea what this means,” she continues, ignoring my questions. “You hearing me. Change comes. The purpose of my power shall not go to waste after all.”
“Oh, my dear girl. I own so much power I burn with it.”
She sighs, frustrated. “If you already know I am inside your mind then logically there’s no need to converse with your tongue.”
How rude. But I shut my mouth anyway.
“You and I are going to create something very special.” Silky venom slides against my thoughts. “With me by your side, we can change what once was. With me by your side, you can once again protect those you love.”
She has no idea. All those I love are dead.
“Dead is just a label for something humans will never understand.” Another long sigh of impatience. “What if I were to lend you my power? A gift from me to you.”
Isn’t that what the Greeks promised the people of Troy when they built the Trojan horse? Thanks but no thanks. And why am I even bothering with the voice inside my mind when clearly I’ve lost the plot.
“Thanks but no thanks,” she mimics. “When all you need do is channel my energy, do as I instruct, and unwind the past.”
Unwind the past?
“We can re-spin a better future. Piece by piece, we can take back control from the gods. Re-spin this world our way.”
She wants to change the past, create a new future? Not possible. No way.
“Do you not want to change your destiny?” Her voice sly. “Or change your sister’s destiny. Change the future. Bring her back.”
What I wouldn’t give for Carla to open her chocolate browns, watch her smile brighten the world once again. Her loss is a pain deep inside that can never be articulated. But no one gets to come back from the dead.
“For a piece of your soul they can.”
If I truly thought for one second she could bring my only sibling back from the dead, I would lay down my entire soul as payment. No questions asked. What you say is beyond belief. Not true.
“You accuse me of lies?” she screams. “Child, let me show you what I am capable of.”
Her screams morph into high-pitched shrieks threatening my eardrums, turning the inside of my head into a twisted battlefield hosting her rage versus my panic. Good versus evil. I’ve never had to fight a mad woman on the loose inside my head before—damn I don’t even know if this is real or I’m hallucinating—but if I don’t stop her now, I get the feeling there will be nothing left of me.
Not entirely sure of my next move, I close my eyes, searching deep inside my own mind.
A blast of light and I find myself floating through an ancient labyrinth. Pink and purple showers explode overhead.
Suddenly, without warning, a large wave of jelly-like substance rushes at me. Instinct prevails as I shove both palms against the foreign invasion, fighting for control, wrestling with the wave of gelatin. Globs spray across my mouth, burning my lips. Panicking, I spit out the salty goo before it blisters my tongue. And would it really bubble my mouth? I mean, isn’t this all happening inside my head?
Focus. No one is going to hijack my mind. Especially a crazy female.
I redirect energy, forcing the thick mass of unwanted gel back, inch-by-inch, until it’s in one half of the labyrinth, squelching over the walls. But it doesn’t shrink like I expect. So I ditch the maze. In full control of my thoughts, I create a huge hollow space two stories high then slam a wall of steel across the soft mass, trapping her. At least I hope.
The new, shiny barricade extends from one side of my mind to the other, almost carving me in two. Surely, she can’t escape from behind there.
I rest my ear against the warm metal. Her strength hums against the walls, testing my new defense. Whoever or whatever supremacy she might think she is, power or no power, there’s no doubt nothing good will come from having two souls sharing the same headspace. To be sure, I conjure another sheet of metal from my imagination and reinforce the wall, bolting the steel in place until she’s quiet, dormant. Yeah, but for how long?
Unsettled, I blink away from the intruder and back into the morgue. It’s dangerous to spend too much time in the core.
Seeing my sister’s dead face hits me in the gut all over again. What if the rantings of the crazy lady trapped inside my mind are right? What if I really could change the past, bring her back from the dead? I squash those risky thoughts along with the strong urge to remove the barricade and beg the dark mass to bring Carla to me.
“I’m sorry, sis, but you and I both know there’s no coming back from the dead.” I step forward to gently kiss her forehead, one last good-bye. My lips press against her forehead, so ice cold.
I move away, turning for the door—whoa, the stiletto on my boot slips on the hard surface of the tiles, throwing me backward.
My skull cracks against the floor, pain exploding into my skull, killing all conscious thought.
Burnt matches. The acrid scent fills my nostrils as though somebody’s been flicking the ends under my nose.
A headache the size of a mountain pushes my brain against my skull, so much so, I almost miss the distinct taste of copper trickling down my throat. I must have bitten my tongue during the fall. With great care, I run the swollen tip across the inside of my mouth. Okay, not too bad.
Very slowly, I flicker open my eyelids.
Only seconds ago, I was identifying my sister’s body in St. Lucas Andreas Hospital, Amsterdam—before fighting against an unknown head invasion. Now, I find myself collapsed in a heap. But not in the morgue. No way. For a start, my arm and part of my upper body hang dangerously over the edge of a hot, howling precipice where ragged cliffs drop into a deadly ravine. Above that ravine? An enormous crimson sky, stretches to the horizon. Worse. Foreign knives, swords, chains, and objects I can’t even begin to name are strapped up tight against my clothing with toffee-colored leather belts and metal buckles.
Nervous, I drop whatever’s in my right hand then start yanking all offensive artillery from my body, tossing the sharp items to the ground.
With renewed strength, I wobble to my feet. Dry dust mixed with a bawling wind suddenly stings my face and whips my ponytail around my cheeks. When the wind drops, fear wraps its bony fingers around my sides and squeezes tight.
The morgue, the creepy voice inside my head? They’re all a walk in the park compared to this place.
Behind me? An endless gorge. Before me? A blanket of broken bodies litter the ground. They cover the earth, piled knee-high, stretching out to forever. Their fresh blood seeps into the ground, turning the carpet of soil into the color of roasted coffee beans.
Cracked ivory bones poke through flesh and dark matted clothing. Shattered limbs lie at unnatural angles. Dismembered heads of men, women, and children everywhere—their final moments of terror captured in their open eyes. And all glassy eyes stare at me.
Horror creeps over my shoulders. This can’t be real. I’m dreaming. Just to be sure, I pinch myself hard.
Well that answers that question.
And if this is one ounce of real then I’m in hot water. No death here was because of natural causes, everyone has been murdered. Mutilated. What if the killer is still here? What if I’m next?
I don’t hesitate a moment longer, jumping over the weapons, trying not to accidently tread on any bodies but they’re everywhere. Wildly, I spin around, seeking escape, seeking help, seeking anything--
My breath catches in my throat. Less than ten meters away, imprisoned in a large clear rectangular container, stands a man.
No. Not a man…. A god. With dark stubble coating his clenched jaw. And loose black hair touching the tops of his bare shoulders. Savage. Sinful. Even hemmed in with the stench of death, I can’t help but stare. The muscles in his upper arms bunch and flex against what little remains of his frayed clothing. His bronzed chest dips into a six pack of pure strength, following a dark line of hair which brushes low into the waistline of his shredded black trousers.
And his skin…. Somehow, his skin manages to shimmer gold under the huge crimson sun.
Heat flushes my cheeks. No way he’s real, more likely a product of my over-fertile imagination. But whatever his origins, he is not of my world because he spins a web over my senses, somehow allowing me to forget what surrounds us. And I can’t stop my response to him any more than I can stop the sun from setting.
Except, I’m not so sure he feels the same way. Not if his drawn brows and bared teeth are anything to go by. Breathing heavy, he opens his mouth to yell. But the mutated sun shifts, reflecting scarlet rays off his glass prison. Never one to back down, I strain against the glare, trying to lip-read what he’s shouting, but the reflection feels like acid in my eyes. Maybe if I edge closer…. The god gives up shouting and uses both fists to pound against his incarceration.
Over and over, he smashes knuckles and brute strength against the rectangular structure. The transparent material shudders and vibrates under the onslaught until tiny cracks like spider legs, splinter across the glass.
Again, both fists collide into the weakened material.
The panel bends outward, toward me.
I catch my breath. Surely not. No way. But the glass shatters a million diamonds into the sunlight.
And then he’s coming for me.
Not running—he moves way too fast. One minute he’s surrounded by exploding crystals, the next, he’s in my face, dwarfing my five-foot-five frame. I can’t help but tilt my chin up. Whoa, he’s far bigger and far taller.
“It’s over, Khaos” His baritone voice sends shivers down my spine. “The end comes.” Rough palms grasp the sides of my face, dragging me closer until my lips are millimeters from his. Hot breath fans against my skin.
I don’t know who Khaos might be. I have no idea about an end. So I just stand there, staring like a love-struck teenager. Like I haven’t seen a half-naked man before, with abs cut from slate and…. My tongue darts out to lick my bottom lip.
His eyes narrow. He stares at my lips until those dark irises flash. “Maybe not,” he whispers, before his head lowers to capture my mouth.
Blood rushes straight into my ears. The roaring sound drowns out anything and everything except his touch.
Ruthless, his hand threads the back of my hair, arching my neck, pulling me hard against his solid chest, demanding my lips open beneath him until his tongue slips inside.
My body burns with his taste. My nails want to claw the remains of his clothes off and run my fingertips across every inch of his shimmering, hard body until I know him better than I know myself. Just one kiss and I would follow this god to the end of my world. No man should ever have that much power over another human.
Out of nowhere, the crazy lady bolted away inside my head hammers against her new fortification. Sheets of steel bend and shake.
“Not him! Anyone but him,” she screams.
I’m tempted to slam another metal barricade across the one already there.
“You have no idea who he is, what he’s capable of.” She launches a second frenzied attack. “Just look around. Every being out here lays dead. The sole survivor happens to be him! Open your eyes!”
I pull away from the kiss branding my soul. My head rush dies. He killed them?
But, he couldn’t have. I just watched him break free from his prison.
“Somebody killed them.” The tone of her voice chills.
She’s right. Somebody did murder all these people, but I don’t want to believe it’s him. I don’t think it is him. So, why do I get the feeling I’ve forgotten something?
Something very important.
I explore the face of the god.
He stills. I get the awful impression he knows something, and he’s waiting for me to slot the pieces together. He was shouting. What was he saying before the sun blinded me, before he shattered his glass prison, before he kissed the life from my very body?
He presses the pad of his thumb over my swollen lips and shakes his head. “What you’ve done cannot be undone. The damage is irreversible. Balance must be restored.”
His cryptic words mean nothing. Instead, I gaze into eyes filled with…remorse?
Pain punctures my chest, spreading like fire across my lungs, into my ribs. My eyes widen as blood flares from my lips to splatter across the dark stubble coating his chin.
“There can be no other way.” His voice fills with remorse. “You bring death and destruction with your hands. You will never stop maiming or murdering because this is what you were created to do. For this reason, I have ruled you to bleed until the last drop leaves your body and your soul dies with your final breath.”
I drop my gaze to his fist wrapped around the brutal black handle jutting out of my torso. No. No. Not true. None of this is real! But his hard glare tells a different story, one I’m starting to remember. Comprehension slams together like a badly designed jigsaw puzzle, until the sequence of events makes sense.
The weapons more than capable of murder. All these lifeless souls. And the object which had slipped from my fingers?
Madly, I search for the item.
Still dripping with blood, a machete juts out of the dirt.
I jerk my hands off his skin. My fingers, palms, arms—all coated in evidence—sticky, red, fresh from the kill.
Revulsion replaces pain. Not me. Not me! I’m not a murderer. I could never kill these people.
But this god had been shouting at me to stop because, in this nightmare, somehow, he thinks I’m the one who massacred all these men, women, and children. Destroyed them all in the worst possible ways.
Terror congeals in my throat. I didn’t do this. This is not who I am. I sink to my knees. More blood splatters up against my jeans. You’re unconscious. I yell at myself. Your body is flat out cold in the morgue. You cracked your head on ceramic tiles.
No longer able to hold my own body weight, I keel over onto my side, my left shoulder taking the brunt of the impact against soft dirt and dead bodies. I lay still, barely breathing, eyes wide, watching the crimson sun set on a million deaths.
Sweat covers every inch of my body, droplets bead down my sides, soaking into the back of my T-shirt. Painful twinges rocket up my spine. Four white walls fall into focus.
Dazed, I try to crank my body off the floor tiles, but more sharp twinges bite. Moving takes too much effort, so, for a couple seconds, I give in and just lie there in the morgue. The stench of flesh and death lingers—along with the images of those children, dead and broken. The nightmare leaves a scar flesh deep, and already I wish for amnesia. But, whatever my flaws, murdering people isn’t one of them. Someone else killed those people. It sure as hell wasn’t me.
I roll to my left, close to the body tray. Carla’s dead. Both our parents are dead. All lost to me forever.
Taking a moment, I shove the nightmare to the back of my mind. Then I push up from the floor until I’m crouching, one knee bent, the other providing leverage. That’s when I see blood coating my hands.
Horror sends signals into my brain. They hammer out three tiny words--It wasn’t real. It wasn’t real!
Rational escapes me. I raise my trembling arms. Then I rip off my scarf along with my dark-blue coat and dump the garments on the floor, my yellow T-shirt follows.
From my elbows up, there’s nothing. No blood, no knife wound, no sign of a fight. But from my elbows down, thick splatters of dried blood creases into my skin, hides under my broken fingernails, in between my fingers.
Without thinking, I snatch the blue sheet off my sister’s body to rub at the stains.
Gagging, I drop the cover and slap my hands over my mouth before remembering they’re soaked in someone else’s blood. I jerk them away from me then very slowly, lower my arms. Of all the stupid things I’ve ever done, ripping the sheet off my sister’s body has to be the worst. Not only does it signify disrespect, but I get to see firsthand what killed her. And it’s not the monstrous autopsy butchering her from breast to pubic bone. Or the dull overlarge staples griping her pale chest together so tight they cause her skin to pucker around the metal. Or the black-and-crimson tattoos covering forty percent of her pale skin.
The bite of toast I had for breakfast turns in my stomach because of her throat—or what’s left of it. Slowly I rise. Her slender neck looks nothing more than a mangled mush of bloodied flesh, crushed windpipe, mutilated cartilage, and airways smashed into an unrecognizable mess. Nobody deserves to die in such a horrific way. Certainly not my sister. She was nineteen. She had her whole life ahead of her.
Ignoring the dried blood coating my fingers, I reapply the sheet, try to provide her with some dignity even in death. Was it really two years ago when we kissed on the cheek outside our family home in England before she took off travelling? I took life for granted because I just assumed we would see each other again.
Anger makes me ball my fists. “An eye for an eye,” I promise. “A life for a life.”
I catch a glimpse of the dried blood on my hands. What would be the price to murder the murderer?
The thing inside my head pulsates behind her new enforcement.
“Release me,” she demands, “and I will give you your sister back. Everything you have ever wanted sits nestled in the palm of your hand. All you need do is remove these walls, and let me do the rest.”
Who could say no to that type of offer, her sort of power? All at the touch of my fingertips.
So tempting. But what happens when I release her malevolence? The bad feeling in my gut says the cost will be a lot higher than just a piece of my soul.
She laughs at my resolve. “You cannot keep me contained in here forever, little girl.”
“Sooner or later, you will beg for what I can give. Then the time will come to pay the piper.”
Deep down, I shiver at the true horror residing on the other half of my mind. Just how long can I keep rebuffing her offers, the offers I so desperately want to accept?
Squashing our conversation before I prove the crazy woman right and drop to my knees pleading with her to take my soul in exchange for Carla.
Picking up my clothes, I gave Carla one last look. “Until we meet again, sis.”
Dressed, I hurried through the hospital’s maze of sterile white corridors. Door after door, I rush pass every single one of them. Tears blur my vision. My heart lay shattered in pieces.
Finally, I stumbled into a large waiting area and straight into the arms of my best friend.
“Och, lass.” Dillon’s soft Scottish brogue hugs me warm. For a moment, I allow myself to snuggle into him, breathe in his soft aftershave; feel his straw-colored hair wave over my face. Warm brown eyes fill with concern. “I should have come with you.”
“It was awful,” I hear myself blubber. But it was worse than awful, it was shove-a-fist-into-my-chest-and-rip-out-my-heart-while-it’s-still-beating awful.
He draws my head into the crevice between his neck and shoulder. “The worst is over now.”
Is it? “I don’t think this will ever be over.” That thing carving my mind in two a sure sign.
His strong reassuring hand smooths the back of my long hair. “You canna see the detective like this. Cancel the appointment. Talk to him tomorrow morning before our flight leaves. Give yourself time to heal.”
I almost agree with him. Maybe I could suspend my life for a day or two, just until I get a handle on all the damage hailing in on my existence. But I can’t.
“I need to do this,” I say with more determination than I feel.
“No, you doona have to do this. You doona owe the detective an interview. Not today.”
“But I do owe my sister.”
He gently cuffs my chin. “Stronger than iron, lass.”
“Then let’s get this over with.” I pull away from my best friend. The waiting room seems to have a way of sucking the life force right out of my soul. If the crazy woman inside my head happens to be right, then I want to keep what little remains of mine for bartering.
On shaking legs, I guide us through frosted double glass doors which slide shut behind us. Dark clouds loom. A November wind bites our faces. It blasts into my hair, causing snappy strands of my ponytail to fly over my head. I grab at them, wrap them around my fist, and twist them under my gray-checkered scarf, remembering all too clear the harrowing nightmare of another dimension where I might have massacred every living soul. I suppress the memory then bury it under the sand along with my head, very aware I’m avoiding a major issue like the plague.
Worse? I should have taken the chance to wash off the dried blood before we left the hospital. I screw my fingers into tiny balls, allowing my coat to cover them.
“Summer lass.” Dillon breaks through my thoughts, using his nickname for me. “You sure you want to go through with this?”
He inclines his head to the left with displeasure. “Stubborn mule.” Sturdy fingers grab the upper arm of my jacket as he steers us along wet cobbled stones. “Too headstrong for your own good,” he mutters, still reprimanding me until I almost skid on the shiny surfaces. He glances at my feet with disgust. “Why are you wearing heels in this weather?”
I follow his gaze. “Because stilettos are fashionable.” Plus, I was sick of wearing all those clumpy shoes with thick soles and manly shapes. Yeah, I’ve been gothic before. Even loved it. But this season I’m having a slender heel time.
He shakes his head, grumbling.
We continue weaving through the mass of tourists who shove and push us almost into a wave of oncoming bikes when, suddenly, those dark-gray clouds threatening rain all morning, burst.
Thousands of fat droplets hail down. Sightseers run for cover while stallholders bunker down under their plastic coverings. We pick up speed, pumping our legs over bogged-filled, verdant parks and across ancient narrow bridges of stone until we round the final corner where the outlet meets the sea.
Dillon slows our approach. “This the place?” he shouts over the rain, pointing toward a blue-and-white sign catching in the brewing storm.
“Politie Amsterdam-Amstelland.” I nod. “All according to the detective’s instructions.”
Panting, we approach two automatic doors built into a main historical building. They slide to the side, revealing a chestnut-brown reception desk with burnt-orange chairs clustered together in a corner.
A blonde female officer with thin lips pressed into an almost non-existent line intercepts. “Mizz Summer Keese?” She’s got the same accent as the yellow-fingered morgue attendant, just not as thick
I nod. “I’m here to meet with Detective Brinkenhoff.”
Her hands twitch at her sides “Pleaze, follow me.” Funny how she accepts my confirmation without evidence.
We trudge along after her into a warm corridor smelling of hot stale air. I go to swipe wet hair off my cheeks when I remember my hands and what’s covering them.
Damn it! This needs to come off. If the detective notices what’s splattered across my arms, he will ask awkward questions for which I haven’t any answers. The quicker I rid myself of someone else’s blood, the quicker I can start forgetting about how it got there.
“Hey, do you have a restroom?”
She turns, anxiety flickers across her face. I realize I’ve made a grave mistake.
When I had labelled her as stern, I’d been wrong, total bad judgment on my behalf. Especially as I should know better. But now, her movements make sense—the twitchy fingers, the crossed brows, the pressed mouth pressed—she’s worried about something. To the point she seems petrified.
I frown, concerned. There’s been enough death for one day, and this woman appears desperate enough she might go knocking for it.
Her obvious distress cements my decision to listen in on her thoughts to make sure she’s going to last the day. And the next day. And the day after.
Meeting her gray eyes flecked with apprehension and guilt, I establish the link between us. Within moments, her internal voice projects inside my mind, her feelings swamping my senses.
…him denying the truth…when I’ve read the text messages. Stared at the incriminating words on his phone with my own eyes. And the children, how will I cope as a single mother? I enjoy my job, but the hours are antisocial, the pay not sufficient. Certainly not enough to keep four children and myself above water. I shouldn’t have taken the money. But there was so much of it. I had no choice. And really, what harm can it do? I only have to show her….
Sadness touches the blonde officer’s smile as she moves her gaze away from mine. Without knowing, she breaks the link between her thoughts and mine. Telepathy comes with its own limitations.
Her conflicted emotions tangle with my own for a moment longer than usual. I shake off the feelings which leave me bruised and unsettled, they’re a small price to pay to know she won’t be lying on a metal tray for her children to identify. I only hope her guilt for taking money she thinks she shouldn’t have doesn’t eat away at her.
Lost in someone else’s thoughts, it takes a second before I notice I’ve followed Dillon and the woman into a room the size of a broom closet.
“Is this the right room?”
“Aye, if it got any smaller, we would be fighting a battle with the police department’s coat rack.”
“You’re pale.” He pulls out a plastic mandarin-colored chair.
“No, you’re not. And doona tell me your tiny bite of toast for breakfast was sufficient because it’s not.” He applies pressure on my shoulders until I sit. “When we’re finished here, we’re going for food. Aye, no arguments. And this time, I’m making sure you eat.”
Head down so he can’t see the police officer’s guilt reflecting in my eyes, I try not to think about how I hear other people’s thoughts. Yeah, it’s a gift, but stepping into the head of so many strangers takes its toll. Thank God I can’t hear their futures. And I don’t read anyone’s past. Not anymore. Not like when I was much younger.
Mum and Dad always encouraged my sister and me to expand the gifts we were both born with. But when they figured I could do more than just a general skim off the neighbor’s thoughts, they freaked. Then we had the big girl talk. Dad explained the hurt and pain people would feel if they knew I’d encroached on their most private memories. He told me those secrets weren’t mine to steal. We had a serious conversation for a ten-year-old, but I trusted my parents knew best. On that day, I dutifully promised never to pick through anyone’s memories again. To this day, my promise remains intact.
“Summer?” Dillon puts a hand on my shoulder. “There’s still time to leave.”
“Miss Keese?” A man stops under the flaking door frame, interrupting us.
“Detective Brinkenhoff?” I inquire.
He nods then just stands there. “You look just like her,” he states, staring lukewarm blues half hidden behind throw-back Buddy Holly glasses. Except, not hidden enough I don’t miss the suppressed shock flickering across his facial features. But I’m used to his type of reaction. Everyone’s shocked to see me after they’ve seen my sister. We weren’t just twins. We were identical, indistinguishable replicas of one another.
“Apart from the hair,” I respond—because she’d changed her style to black, short, and choppy while mine remained long and brown.
Naturally, I scan his face, listen to a couple of his thoughts. He’s scrutinizing, assessing for crucial differences between the two of us. When she was alive, even our friends used to find us tricky to tell apart. Hell, even our freckles were identical. From head to toe, only a singular dissimilarity distinguished us—a small scar under my right breast, thanks to the left handle of my sunshine-yellow bike when I fell on it as a kid.
Brinkenhoff still eyeballs me as all five foot two of him shuffles around the metal table.
Curious, I make eye contact then go for another read.
Violent red blasts into my retinas followed by a gigantic misshaped silhouette which rears up into the link. All sharp teeth and horns, the reincarnation of the devil knocks me back on my arse, severing the connection with a slash of his talons.
What the hell was that? I shake off a hundred volts of shock, which blinks tiny gray dots into my line of vision, then check on the detective who still stands on the other side of the dented table, staring totally unaware of what’s just happened. On my left, Dillon plays with his iPhone.
When only silence greets me, I gear up for another attempt. Except, I’ve just become very aware of what the detective’s carrying.
Tucked tight under Brinkenhoff’s right arm are a couple of caramel A4 paper envelopes. I dump the idea of going for another read. He sits on the opposite side of the tiny room, his back to the stained wall. The plastic chair scrunches his well-worn corduroy jacket, making him appear…peculiar, like a small child wearing his father’s Sunday clothes.
Brinkenhoff lays both packages on the table. He leans forward on his elbows, balancing his upper body weight. “Your full cooperation is required with this investigation.”
I don’t miss his emphasis on the word “full” or the surprising fact his English pronunciation sounds pretty good. I must have missed that minor detail when we first spoke over the phone the day before.
“When did you last see your sister?” he shoots, not waiting for any kind of formal introduction.
I hide my shock at his rudeness behind a clenched smile. “Two years ago.”
“Our family home.” His aggression rubs me up the wrong way, so I don’t elaborate.
“And that might be…?” He waits for me to fill in the silence.
“Stony Stratford.” A small village in England.
He nods to himself. “And yet, now you live in Scotland. Very interesting.”
I lift my shoulder. “Not really. I study art at the university there.”
He ignores my response. “When did you last speak to your sister?”
I hesitate for my own reasons. “Four, maybe five weeks ago.”
“Were the two of you close?”
“Sometimes,” I respond, now knowing full well where he’s going with his line of questioning.
He stares unblinking eyes before he lowers his gaze and scribbles something unintelligible on a hand-size note pad. I throw an odd glance at my friend who hasn’t got a clue what my rapid eye blinking means. Note pad? Who uses a note pad and pen these days? Where’s the technical equipment? Where’s the laptop or recording device? Isn’t this supposed to be an official interview?
He pats my thigh. I think he mistakes my crazy eye movement for distress over my sister’s death.
“How close were the two of you?” the detective presses.
I swing back to Brinkenhoff. “Close enough.”
“Then I can assume there was no trouble between the two of you, no family dispute, say over your parents’ Last Will and Testament?”
And there it is. What I’ve been waiting for, the lance through my chest delivered by the detective. Instant sorrow fills me at the mention of Mum and Dad. “No dispute,” I state, not wanting to revisit the raw memories of my parents’ deaths. “We were just normal twins.”
But we weren’t normal. On some molecular level, we were identical, but we weren’t the same. Carla couldn’t jump into a person’s head like I can. Instead, she had something else altogether very special about her.
My focus wanders to the two caramel-colored envelopes.
“What happened after your parents died?” he asks.
“My sister left to travel Europe. I found the distance made it difficult to keep in contact with her.”
But in truth, we just weren’t like most identical twins. I never finished her sentences, she never knew what I was thinking. I like staying safe, she love adventure. We were so disconnected, I didn’t even know she was in Amsterdam.
A sudden scrape and shuffle draws my attention to the left. “Where are you going? The interview isn’t over.”
Dillon taps his vibrating mobile, concealing the screen so I don’t get a visual on the caller. “This shouldna take long.” He nods toward the detective. “I need to take this.”
Unease creeps over my skin. We’ve been friends for two years, but in the last twenty-four hours, he’s been behaving a little odd. Not odd as in over-dramatic-in-your-face-odd. He’s more subtle, almost to the point where I forget he’s doing it—until now.
Maybe I should skim his thoughts before he turns to leave. Find out who the caller is and why he’s hiding the person from me. I go to set up the connection, but he moves away, and without direct eye-to-eye contact, the link fails.
The detective pauses. He waits for my friend to leave before, “No belongings were found on your sister’s body. No clothing, no jewelry—”
“No clothes, no belongings?”
“We have no way of knowing which hotel your twin was staying at.” He leans farther forward. His topaz-colored hair falls across his forehead, making him appear somehow more ominous. “If you have information, if you know something, anything….”
I scrunch my brows. But if there were no items on my sister’s body, then how did Brinkenhoff and his crew locate me in Glasgow so quick?
Either the detective’s hiding information. Or he’s lying. And the thought a man of the law could lie is inconceivable. But not unheard of. My sister’s stretched out on a metal slab, waiting to be buried, and Brinkenhoff’s story has holes all over it.
“Detective, just to be sure, were you at the crime scene where my sister was murdered?”
He bristles with importance. “I was one of the first few on the scene.”
I smile to myself. His words are exactly what I want to hear. Braced for action, I lock eyes with Brinkenhoff’s lukewarm blues and prepare to do something I haven’t done since I was ten. I’m going to pick through his memories. I prepare for impact.
His dark shadow firewalls into my face, angry and aggressive with fiery eyes blazing. But I focus, redirecting energy until I blast through the silhouette like tissue paper. Rolling through all his defenses until I find myself standing in the one place a former me once promised I’d never visit again.
The center of his mind.
Pitch black holds me still. And although I hadn’t ventured this far into anyone’s consciousness for a long time, I haven’t forgotten the backdoor trick to creating light. Everyone owns a switch inside their heads.
On my command, a dim amber glow illuminates the concave room, highlighting tentacles of octopi tunnels which fling off in all different directions. I’m alone, comforted only by silence.
Until, in the distance…rumbling voices, thousands of them, all talking over multiple timelines, all wanting an audience, all needing to be heard.
I quickly dig around in my mind for the mental guard to protect myself against the emotional spin off about to hit me. I locate my dusty translucent globule and throw the soap-like bubble over my head, stretching the thin gum all the way down to my feet just as a freight train of small rubber TV-like-screens rush over me.
I hold still, hoping the rusty shield works.
Snippets of Brinkenhoff’s memories bash into and around me, but the old shield deflects them. Dad once warned soul searching would turn me inside out. Soaking up what other people keep locked inside their minds would frazzle my own emotions, rip apart any meaning I have for life. I guess that’s one of the reasons I stopped.
With the shield holding, I wade forward, through the thick soup of visions and sounds, searching for a memory of my sister. Needle, haystack comes to mind. I’ll have to get real lucky to find anything in this mess--
A projection of a girl with short black hair against pale skin bumps past.
I trample any visions silly enough to get close to me seconds before my fingers wrap around a piece of Brinkenhoff’s past bobbing in the middle of chaos. I hesitate. Because in order for me to be able to read this particular memory, I know I need to be inside the screen. To do that requires lowering my shield.
Dithering will get me nowhere. I ditch the shield as I stretch the rubber wide, then pull the screen over my head all the way to the floor until my body pushes into the jelly-like substance, and I walk into his memory.
Shoulder-length, butchered hair lies like a broken raven’s wing against dirty brown cobblestones. The strands are stringy, matted together because they’re wet. A light rain drizzles, coating every officer out here.
Day-old garbage rots in torn plastic bags stacked against one side of a sand-colored building with a street sign pinned to the edge.
Her face lies still, unmoving. Eyes shut dead against the world. What’s left of her neck lays fleshy and exposed. Whatever killed her was brutal.
He goes to push her hair off her forehead, but his hand freezes. He withdraws his fingers. He doesn’t want anyone seeing him touch her. Seeing her body like this fills him with guilt. He suppresses those thoughts along with the feeling of loss. Her death somehow affects him deep within his soul.
But he’s not here to grieve for her. He’s here to locate the item.
His eyes cast down.
Metal catches early morning sunlight, throwing a tiny prism of white from her chest. A small key hangs on a silver necklace.
His hand reaches forward. He’s fast. He doesn’t want anyone else to witness what he’s about to do. He wraps the fragile chain around his fingers and snaps the link from her neck….
The memory suddenly switches off. For some strange reason, which I’m not entirely sure, I no longer have control. Instead, I tumble legs over head out of his memory until I’m back surrounded by bouncing rubber screens, all skidding in different directions.
Without my shield!
Vulnerable, exposed. I retract—fast—throwing myself out of his mind like an elastic band. The dirty-brown interview room falls into focus.
I’m sweating, glaring at an unsuspecting Brinkenhoff. I shake off his emotion faster than I did the blonde detective’s and gather my thoughts.
He stole a key off my sister! He’s been lying to me!
Awkward silence while I struggle to get my breathing under control. The silence continues until I realize he’s waiting for a response. I scrabble to remember our previous conversation and fail. So, I say the first words that come to mind. “If I know anything, Detective, you’ll be the first to know.” The lie falls easily from my lips, because if I stumble across anything to do with my sister’s murder, he’ll be the last I speak to.
I open my mouth to challenge the detective about the necklace, but he lifts one of the unmarked envelopes off the table. I stop short. His dumpy fingers extract the contents, laying the items out in front of me.
“You know what these are?” he asks.
I nod, my heart crumbling, as I want to curl up and die.