The murderous air thickened into gray mist around Dee Nilsson’s underground tomb, but she watched with little thought and even less awareness. Time had suspended her in a mysteriously dark place, and there was no escape, no safety, only a nightmarish world which she could not leave and no one else could enter. She reached one crippled hand to her forehead. The wound near her hairline had stopped bleeding, but the gash was deep and wide, reminding Dee of her defeat. The siege of her life had begun twelve hours ago, and she knew above all things that her death was fast approaching. The only question was when. Minutes drowned into hours before Dee finally drew her arms around her knees and leaned back against the mud walls, resigned to her situation. The air smelled of C H A P T E R decay and rain. A slither of light hailed from the cracks above, just bright enough to remind her of the daylight that she would never see again. Amid the misty haze of her surroundings, Dee fought to remember. She knew, as she rubbed her hands together, as she felt the scraped soles of her feet, the light brush of her eyelids as they opened and closed over two swollen eyes, that there had been life once. She had been an energy to be reckoned with. She had been an intact person. She flattened her hands in front of her face. Memories began to reflect in her palms like slides in a projector. Soft shards of light showed glimpses of the past and present. Her dog Jack appeared, a Maltese whom she had saved from an animal shelter just an hour before his scheduled euthanasia. In her vision, he was asleep on her bed, lying on his back near her pillows. She saw her house in Oakland, a brick two-story with three bedrooms, one which she used for an office. A kitchen painted purple, a backyard with a screened-in porch. She saw her parents attending church, and her younger sister stationed in Iraq playing cards with other soldiers. Dee saw her ex-fiancé in Miami, sharing a table at Starbucks with an attractive redhead. She saw herself dancing at her best friend’s wedding, and walking on the Santa Monica Promenade. She saw herself graduating from UCLA and falling in love for the first time with her parents’ Mexican yard boy. She saw herself happy, relaxed, anxious, laughing, delirious. Most importantly, Dee saw 2 herself alive. What Dee could not see, what she could not remember, was how she had arrived here, to this place. When she tried to reach back, a black cloud blocked her brain. A barricade of nothingness invaded her mental highway. Dee closed her eyes, forcing herself to remember. Something, she thought. Something has to trigger something. And then something closely resembling a male voice spoke inside the darkness: Can’t remember how you got here, sugar pie? The noise startled Dee. Until now she had been under the impression that she was alone. “Who’s there?” she asked as her eyes flew open. The answer came in silver droplets that fell from the cave’s surface and formed one large puddle on the dirt beside Dee. Do you really want to know, Dee? The voice seemed to be everywhere and nowhere at once, low and deep, barely audible under the pressure of its density. “Help me,” Dee screamed, her head turning from side to side, unsure of which direction the voice was coming from. “Please help me.” You’re asking the wrong person, sweetheart. “Who are you?” Dee asked, her voice becoming even more frantic. “Why am I here?” To die was what she thought the voice would say, but it surprised her by simply asking, Why do you think you are here, Dee Nilsson? 3 Dee shook her head frantically. “I don’t know. I don’t . . . ” Don’t give me that shit. Of course you do. “Please,” Dee sobbed, tears falling from her eyes. “I can’t remember.” Then let me help you, cutie pie. Come and look inside. As if hypnotized, Dee leaned over the ground where the puddle no longer reflected translucent blue, but now changed into flashes of color, until solid shapes formed, and Dee saw herself on the wet surface. It was not her as she was now, with a long gash across her forehead and her entire body covered in dirt. The Dee in the image was laughing and taking sips from a drink that looked suspiciously like a whiskey sour. She sat on a barstool in a mahogany room, lavishing in the attention of male company.
“Stuart Reed,” Dee said aloud, suddenly remembering. The voice laughed. Listen, it said. Go ahead and listen. Watch. See why you’re here. So, Dee listened. And watched. And listened. It was Stuart Reed’s voice she heard first. He said, “It’s great fun if you kill somethin’. Warm blood all over your hands and the smell of the kill.” The Dee in the image tossed back her whiskey sour before exclaiming, “Vile! It’s so vile. I hate hunting. I think it’s cruel how those deer suffer. They’re just defenseless animals. Haven’t you ever thought of that?”