Authors: Jennifer Michiels
By: Jennifer Michiels
by Jennifer Michiels
© 2014 by Jennifer Michiels. All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any written, electronic, recording, or photocopying without written permission of the publisher or author.
Although every precaution has been taken to verify the accuracy of the information contained herein, the author and publisher assume no responsibility for any errors or omissions. No liability is assumed for damages that may result from the use of information contained within.
To my wonderful husband and children. Thank you for pushing me to achieve my dreams, and for standing behind me every step of the way. I love you.
The tiny girl sat on his lap, her auburn curls hanging wildly around her face and bright green eyes staring in wonder at the book in his large hands. They'd read it at least a thousand times before, but she never tired of the story about the wooden horse and the soldiers hiding inside.
She smiled up at him, her pale face showing the true state of her health as a rattling cough rattled her entire body. His arms tightened around her frail frame and held her close, his cheek resting atop the five-year-old’s head in solace. Martin wished with every cell of his being that he could take away her pain.
"Grandpa?" she asked, her frail voice barely above a whisper.
He smiled back at her, trying to hide his concern. It was unclear if she truly understood the magnitude of her illness: that very soon, she would be no more. Her sickness, Leukemia, was too far advanced; doctors across the state had declared hers a hopeless case. Even if she could survive the harsh treatments, there was an eighty-five percent chance that it would return or have no effect at all.
Martin Slade refused to accept that. He would not, could not, watch his precious granddaughter waste away to nothing. He glanced across the small study, lined from floor to ceiling with bookshelves, to the large, wooden desk near the window. He knew that his only glimmer of hope rested in the top drawer, a single vial of crimson liquid that either could be her saving grace or make him an accomplice to unintentional murder.
"Martin, the first trials were a huge success. I know it will save lives" the man in the white lab coat said, cradling the canister in his hands. "They denied us human trials, but I'm telling you, I know it will work. I've seen it."
Martin shook his head. Harry Schultz had been a friend for nearly ten years, at least since he'd accepted the position as the lead accountant for Legacy Pharmaceuticals. He knew what the scientist was capable of and had every faith that the man was telling the truth.
"A ninety-seven percent success rate, Martin! That's unheard of!" A smile broke out across Harry's face. "It hasn't been tested on a human body, but it's cured over two hundred subjects of hemophilia, anemia, leukemia, and myeloma. All cured!"
There was a silence between the two as he paused for a moment and stared at the blood red liquid in the container between his fingers. "If you don't try, she's going to die anyway," he continued quietly without looking up at him.
Martin ran both of his hands through his graying hair and paced the short width of the dark hallway. He didn't know what to do. It was a situation where he was damned if he did, and damned if he didn't. He stopped and inhaled deeply. He had to try. Without it, he inevitably would lose her, and knew that he could never live the rest of his life wondering, “What if?”
He held out his hand but couldn't bring himself to meet Harry’s gaze as he took the formula. Every logical cell in his brain was screaming at him not to, but his heart was twice as loud. He would not lose his only granddaughter when the very cure could be so close.
He smiled down at the precious child in his lap and couldn't bear to see her suffer any longer.
She began to wretch as another series of coughs tore from her small body.
He stood and placed her in the chair, leaning over to kiss the top of her head. With quick strides, he crossed the room and jerked open the drawer of the desk. Wrapping his fingers around the syringe, he closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
"If you don’t try, she’s going to die anyway."
The words rang through his mind, and he knew that he didn't have a choice. His eyes darted to the bend of his left elbow, where the small bruise left behind from the very same injection already had faded. As far as he could tell, there were no ill effects to a healthy human. He could only pray that it would be the same for her.
Crossing back to her, he looked down at the sickly five-year-old. With eyes closed, she rested her head against the chair, each breath shallower than the last. She smiled up at him as he knelt beside her and placed his hand on hers. "Hold still, Rayne, this is only going to sting a little," he said gently.
Rayne bolted upright in the center of her bed, her heart pounding a deafening rhythm against her rib cage as breaths came in short, quick gasps. She clutched at her sweat drenched T-shirt and stared into the darkness of her bedroom, trying to focus her eyes as they darted back and forth from shadowed corner to shadowed corner, searching for the person she knew was just there.
A dream. It was just a dream.
She couldn't catch her breath. It felt as though someone were sitting on her chest, preventing her lungs from expanding. She desperately grabbed for the lamp on her nightstand, and as soon as the light flooded the space, she jerked around, looking over every inch of the room.
She leaned over and rested her elbows on her knees, face buried in her hands, trying to calm herself as she wiped away the auburn hair plastered to her forehead in a thin sheen of sweat. Her newfound paranoia and nightmares were getting out of hand and did nothing but make her angry.
Why? Why is it the same damn dream every time?
The perpetual string of questions that had haunted her since the break-in decided to rear their ugly heads as they had every morning for the past two weeks. Obviously, the incident had affected her more than she thought. At first, it hadn’t really bothered her. She’d just assumed that it was a crime of opportunity. An individual saw an empty apartment and decided that there might be something of value inside.
I bet they were disappointed.
It wasn’t until she discovered that absolutely nothing had been taken that her mind began to throw every possible scenario into the mix. She started to worry about the true motives of the offender. She tried for days to convince herself that it was a mistake: Once the thief realized that she was just as bad off, if not worse than himself, he left with nothing, maybe out of pity, or something else perhaps.
The nightmares started shortly after. Every morning at four A.M., she would awaken exactly the same as she had just then, drenched in sweat, unable to breathe, and very nearly on the verge of a heart attack. Over and over, she relived the torture from a rancid monster with rotting teeth, putrid breath, and disgusting in every way imaginable. He would force himself on her as she lay helplessly restrained to her own bed, unable to move or even scream. She still could feel the slimy trail his repulsive tongue left on her neck and the way his greasy hands groped and pulled on her body.
That’s all it had been at first, just her and the beast. That is, until she noticed the faceless stranger standing silently in the corner, watching.
After several days of enduring the vision, she became somewhat accustomed to it, and realized that it wasn’t as terrifying as it originally had been. Every time the vision came to her, she saw a little more detail to his features. Tonight, she was able to see his eyebrows and the faintest hint of color to his eyes.
Trying to recall every miniscule element to the stranger that had been plaguing her, she suddenly realized something that hadn’t occurred to her till then:
I could see his lips.
A shiver started at the top of her head and snaked its way down her spine, ending at the tips of her toes. Tiny bumps pricked her skin and she wrapped her arms tightly around herself as she let the image fade in and out, wondering if she’d really seen it or just imagined it.
Of course you imagined it. It was a dream.
The fact alone that she could see his mouth was not what had bothered her. It was what was around it. There, at each corner, was a trail of blood dripping down his chin.
What? Why? Were those fangs? Is he a cannibal?
She shook her head at the next thought that emerged.
Now you’re just being ridiculous.
Sighing, Rayne tried to push the thoughts from her head. Contemplating them any further would yield no new results and she decided not to waste her time.
Once more, emerald green eyes looked up to scan the room before coming to a rest on the corner behind the door. It was so vivid, all of it. Even when she knew that she was fully awake, she could still see him standing there. Pale skin, dark hair, and faceless, his non-existent eyes staring into her soul as the beast did his work, and then gone, just that quickly.
Grabbing the black elastic band from her nightstand, she quickly tied back the mess of curls hanging around her shoulders and down her back. With adrenaline still pumping through her veins, she stood and made her way out of the room and down the narrow hall to her kitchen, where she subconsciously went through the motions of making coffee. Her mind was far too occupied and busy elsewhere to really take note of what she actually was doing.
As much as she tried to ignore the sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach brought on by the nightmare, she couldn’t. The whole thing baffled her. First, she was a ten-dollar-an-hour waitress with no extraordinarily valuable possessions. She had a "survivable" apartment and a car that was just enough to get her from point A to B. She made do with what she had, but there was nothing to spare, and she constantly lived paycheck to paycheck, just like most of the residents in Ridgeton, Washington. She couldn't fathom what anyone could possibly want from that.
Second, suppose that she did have something of some importance. What was it? How did she get it? And why did he want it so badly? Was it valuable enough that he would come back? If she was there, would he kill her?
She pressed the start button on the coffeemaker and headed toward her bathroom. It was too much to try and process anything without at least having some sort of caffeine in her system and stumbling through her morning routine.
She flipped on the light and stepped into the decrepit space. It was cramped and in desperate need of updating, with hideous, powder-blue tile and a matching tub. The ceiling was splotched with water damage, and it was indecipherable through the hard water stains what color the sink originally had been. However, all in all, most days, it served its purpose.
She brushed her teeth and washed her face as usual, but took an extra second to study her reflection in the dingy mirror. Her bright green eyes looked as though they had faded a shade or two, and dark circles marred the creamy flesh just below them.
Another sleepless night with all this stress, and I’ll be able to take the leading role in a zombie film and not even use stage makeup.
Which, amusingly enough, is exactly what she needed: Makeup. She opened the medicine cabinet and began to dig furiously through miscellaneous bottles and tubes until her hand landed on the one she sought. Pulling out her foundation, she grabbed a sponge and slathered it on.
It was so frustrating to have just one single event change her routines and perspectives so drastically. She wished she just could forget that it ever occurred in the first place. But that wasn't happening. She wouldn't call herself paranoid just yet, but it was beyond tiring to check the doors and windows three and four times before bed because she was afraid she may have missed something. It would eventually get better, but for the moment, it helped her cope.
Donning a pair of jeans and a green "Kiss me, I'm Irish" T-shirt, Rayne made her way toward the delicious aroma of coffee filling the apartment. She poured a mug and turned on the morning news, leaning over the counter to gently blow on the steaming liquid before taking the first heavenly sip. She smirked to herself and imagined the snide remarks her best friend Layla would have been spouting right then. It was all too often she was heckled about being too responsible.