Carol ate a spoonful of spumoni and said, “All right. Here’s what we’ll do. Jane and I will leave for the mountains first thing in the morning, just as we planned. You stay here, finish your scene, and then drive up to join us whenever you’re ready.”
He frowned. “I’m not sure that’s a good idea.”
“Well, is it really wise for the two of you to go up there alone? I mean, the summer season is over. Theme aren’t going to be many campers in the woods now, and most of the other cabins will be deserted.”
“For heaven’s sake,” Carol said, “there’s no
Abominable Snowman lurking around in those mountains, Paul. We’re in Pennsylvania, not Tibet.” She smiled. “It’s nice to know you’re so concerned about us, darling. But we’ll be perfectly safe.”
Later, after Jane had gone to bed, Paul made one last attempt to change Carol’s mind, although he knew the effort would be wasted.
He leaned against the frame of the closet door and watched as Carol selected clothes for the suitcases.
“Listen, be straight with me, okay?”
“Aren’t I always? Straight about what?”
“The girl. Is there any chance she’s dangerous?”
Carol turned from the clothes rack and stared at him, obviously surprised by his question. “Jane? Dangerous? Well, a girl as pretty as she is will probably
break a lot of hearts over the years. And if cuteness could kill, she’d leave the streets littered with bodies behind her.”
He refused to be amused. “I don’t want you to be flippant about this. I think it’s important. I want you to give it careful thought.”
“I don’t need to give it a lot of thought, Paul. She’s lost her memory, sure. But she’s a stable, mentally healthy kid. In fact, it takes an amazingly stable personality to handle amnesia the way she’s handled it. I don’t know that I’d do half as well if I were in her shoes right now. I’d either be a nervous wreck or sunk neck-deep in depression. She’s resilient, flexible. Resilient and flexible people aren’t dangerous.”
“Hardly ever. It’s the rigid ones who crack.”
“But after what’s happened in your therapy sessions with her, isn’t it reasonable to wonder about what she might be capable of doing?” he asked,
“She’s a tortured girl. I believe she’s been through a truly terrifying experience, something so awful that she refuses to relive it, even under hypnosis. She obfuscates, misdirects, and holds back vital information, but that doesn’t mean she’s the least bit dangerous. Just scared. It seems evident to me that she was the victim of either physical or psychological violence at some time in her life. The victim, Paul, not the perpetrator.”
She carried a few pairs of jeans to the suitcases that were open on the bed.
Paul followed her. “Are you going to continue her therapy while you’re at the cabin?”
Yes. I think it’s best to keep chipping away at the Wall of confusion she’s thrown up.”
“That’s work,” he said. “I’m not allowed to take my work up to the cabin, but you’re going to work.
That’s a double standard, Dr. Tracy.”
“Double standard, my ass, Dr. Tracy. I’ll need only half an hour a day for Jane’s therapy. That’s a lot different than lugging an IBM Selectric into the piny woods and pounding on the keys ten hours a day. Don’t you realize that all the squirrels and deer and bunny rabbits would complain about the noise?”
Later still, when they were in bed and the lights were out, he said, “Hell, I’m letting this book take possession of me. Why can’t I let the scene lie unfinished for ten days? I might even do a better job with it if I take the time to think about it. I’ll come along with you and Jane tomorrow, and I won’t bring the typewriter. Okay? I won’t even bring a pencil.”
“No,” Carol said.
“When you do get to the mountains, I want you to be able to put the book completely out of your mind. I want us to take long walks in the forest. I want us to go boating on the lake and do some fishing and read a couple of books and act like bums who never even heard the word ‘work.’ if you don’t finish that scene before you go, you’ll just brood about it during the entire vacation. You won’t have a moment's real peace, which means I won’t have a moment's peace, either. And don’t tell me I’m wrong. I know you better than I know myself, buster: You
stay here, write the end of that scene, and then join us on Sunday.”
She kissed him goodnight, fluffed her pillows, and settled down to sleep.
He lay in the dark, thinking about the words in yesterday’s Scrabble game.
And the one word he had refused to reveal:
He still didn’t think anything would be gained by telling her what the last of those six words had been. What could she do about it other than worry? Nothing. She could do nothing, and he could do nothing. Except wait and see. A threat—if one actually arose—could come from any of ten thousand or a hundred thousand sources. It could come anytime, anywhere. At home or in the mountains. One place was as safe—or as dangerous—as the other.
Anyway, maybe the appearance of those six words had been merely coincidence. An incredible but meaningless coincidence.
He stared into the darkness, trying hard to convince himself that there were no such things as spirit messages, omens, and clairvoyant prophecies. Only a week ago, he wouldn’t have needed convincing.
Get it off, scrub it off, every sticky drop of it, wash it off, quickly, quickly, down the drain, every incriminating drop of it, off, before someone finds out, before someone sees and knows what’s been done, wash it off, off...
The girl woke in the bathroom, in a fluorescent glare. She had been sleepwalking again.
She was surprised to find that she was nude. Her knee socks, panties, and T-shirt were scattered on the floor around her.
She was standing in front of the sink, scrubbing herself with a wet washcloth. When she looked at her reflection in the mirror, she was briefly paralyzed by what she saw.
Her face was smeared with blood.
Her arms were spattered with blood.
Her sweetly uptilted, bare br**sts glistened with blood.
And she knew instantly that it wasn’t her own. She had not been slashed or stabbed. She was the one who had done the slashing, the stabbing.
She stared at her gruesome reflection, morbidly fascinated by the sight of her blood-moistened lips.
What have I done?
She slowly lowered her gaze along her crimsoned neck, looked down at the reflection of her right nipple, on which hung a very fat, carmine droplet of gore.
The gleaming pearl of blood quivered for an instant on the tip of her erect nipple; then it succumbed to gravity and fell away from her.
She pulled her gaze from the mirror, lowered her head to see where the droplet had struck the floor.
There was no blood.
When she looked directly at herself, rather than at her reflection, she discovered that her body was not covered with blood after all. She touched her bare breasts. They were damp because she had been scrubbing them with the washcloth, but the dampness was nothing more than water. Her arms weren’t spattered with blood, either.
She squeezed the washcloth. Clear water dripped from it; the cloth bore no grisly stains.
Confused, she raised her eyes to the mirror once more and saw the blood, as before.
She held out her hand. In reality it was not bloody, but in the mirror it was sheathed in a glove of gore.
A vision, she thought. A weird illusion. That’s all. I didn’t hurt anyone. I didn’t spill anyone’s blood.
As she struggled to understand what was happening. her mirror image faded, and the glass in front of her turned black. It seemed to have been transformed into a window that looked out onto another dimension, for it reflected nothing that was in the bathroom.
This is a dream, she thought. I’m really snug in bed, where I belong. I’m only dreaming that I’m in the bathroom I can put a stop to this just by waking up.
On the other hand, if it was a dream, would she be able to feel the cold ceramic floor beneath her bare feet as vividly as she could fuel it now? If it was really only a dream, would she be aware of the cold water on her bare breasts?
In the lightless void on the other side of the mirror, something flickered far off in the darkness.
Something silvery. It flashed again and again, back and forth, the image growing steadily larger.
For God’s sake, wake up!
She wanted to run. Couldn’t.
She wanted to scream. Didn’t.
In seconds the flickering object filled the mirror, pushing back the darkness out of which it had come, and then somehow it burst out of the mirror without shattering the glass, exploded out of the void and into the bathroom with one final, murderous swing, and she saw that it was an ax, bearing down on her face, the steel blade gleaming like the finest silver under the fluorescent lights. As the wickedly sharp edge of the ax swept inexorably toward her head, her knees buckled, and she fainted.
Near dawn, Jane woke again.
She was in bed. She was nude.
She threw the covers back, sat up, and saw her 1-shirt, panties, and knee socks on the floor beside the bed. She dressed quickly.
The house was silent. The Tracys weren’t up yet.
Jane hurried quietly down the hallway to the guest bathroom, hesitated on the threshold, then stepped
inside and snapped on the lights.
There was no blood, and the mirror above the sink was only an ordinary mirror, reflecting her worried face but contributing no bizarre images of its own.
Okay, she thought, maybe I was sleepwalking. And maybe I was actually here without any clothes on, trying to scrub nonexistent blood off my body. But the rest of it was just part of the nightmare. It didn’t happen. It couldn’t. Impossible. The mirror couldn’t really change like that.
She stared into her own blue eyes. She wasn’t sure what she saw in them.
“Who am I?” she asked softly.
All week, Grace’s sleep—what little she had managed to get between bouts of insomnia—had been dreamless. But tonight she thrashed for hours in the sheets, trying to fight her way out of a nightmare that seemed to last an eternity.
In the dream, a house was on fire. A big, beautifully ornamented Victorian house. She was standing outside the blazing structure, pounding on a pair of slant-set cellar doors and calling a name over and over again. “Laura! Laura!” She knew that Laura was trapped in the cellar of the burning house and that these doors were the only way out, but the doors were latched on the inside. She hammered on the wood with her bare hands until each blow sent a cruel bolt of pain the length of her arms, through her shoulders, and up the back of her neck. She wished desperately that she had an ax or a pry-bar or some other tool with which she could smash through the cellar doors, but she had nothing other than her fists, so she pounded and pounded until her flesh bruised and split and bled, and she kept on pounding even then, all the while screaming for Laura. Windows exploded on the second floor, showering glass down over her, but she didn’t turn away from the slant-set cellar doors; she didn’t run. She continued to slam her bloodied fists into the wood, praying that the girl would answer at any moment. She ignored the sparks that showered down on her and threatened to set her gingham dress afire. She wept, and she coughed when the wind blew the acrid smoke in her direction, and she cursed the wood that so easily resisted her fierce but ineffectual attack.
The nightmare had no cl**ax, no peak of terror. It simply went on all night long at a continuously breathless pace until, a few minutes after dawn, Grace finally wrenched herself out of the hot, clutching arms of sleep and woke with a wordless cry, flailing at the mattress.
She sat up on the edge of the bed and held her throbbing head in her hands.
Her mouth was filled with the taste of ashes and bile.
The dream had been so vivid that she had even felt the high-necked, long-sleeved, blue and white gingham dress binding at her shoulders and across her bust as she had hammered on the cellar doors. Now, wide awake, she could still feel the dress binding her, even though she was wearing a loose nightgown, and even though she had never worn such a dress in her entire life.
Worse, she could smell the house burning.
The smoke odor lingered so long after she had awakened that she became convinced that her own house was ablaze. Quickly, she pulled on a robe, stepped into her slippers, and went from one room to another, searching for the fire.
There was no fire.
Yet for almost an hour, the stench of burning wood and tar stayed with her.
FRIDAY morning at nine o’clock, Paul sat down at his writing desk, picked up the phone, and called Lincoln Werth, the police detective in charge of the Jane Doe case. He told Werth that Carol was taking the girl out of town for a few days of rest and recreation.
“Might as well,” Werth said. “We don’t have any leads, and I sure don’t think this is going to break wide open anytime soon. We keep expanding the search area, of course. At first we just put the kid’s photo and description out to authorities in the surrounding counties. When that didn’t do us any good, we put it on the wire to police agencies all over the State. Yesterday morning we took another step and Wired the same data to seven neighboring states. But I’ll tell you something, just between you and me. Even if we expand the search area all the way to Hong
Kong, I got a feeling we ain’t never going to find anyone who knows the kid. I just have a hunch. We’re going to keep coming up empty-handed.”
After talking to Werth, Paul went down to the garage, where Carol and Jane were putting their gear in the trunk of the Volkswagen. To spare the girl grief, Paul didn’t pass along Werth’s pessimistic assessment of the situation. “He said it’s all right to leave town for a few days. The court didn’t restrict you to Harrisburg. I told him where the cabin is, so if anyone turns up to claim our girl here, the Harrisburg police will contact the county sheriff out that way, and he or one of his deputies will drop by the cabin and let you know you’ve got to come back.”