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READ THE FIRST TWO CHAPTERS: The Call of Death, by R.J. Garcia


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Chapter One

The Twilight Zone

A biting cold snaked its way through my body. I didn’t know where I was. I adjusted my right eye to the light and looked at the world from a single-lens camera. Those kinds of movies always made me nauseous. Slowly touching my face, I realized my left eye was swollen shut, and my lips protruded in an unfamiliar fashion. My finger crept down my hospital gown to a long stretch of taped gauze running along my stomach. Lifting my arms, I saw curious black wires, threads that ran down my hands and forearms. Stitches. I brought the sheet up, like a hermit crab retreating to the nearest shell, reeling from an incomplete death.

A nurse’s too chipper voice said, “Good morning, miracle. Your father just stepped out. He stayed by your bed most of the night.”

This surprised me. “My dad?” My voice was raspy.

“Let me check your pulse.” She positioned two latex-covered fingers on my wrist. Next, she instructed me to open up and slipped the thermometer under my tongue. I was part of her normal routine, but nothing seemed normal to me. I had been plucked out of my life and dropped here.

The last thing I remembered about that night was getting back from the club and stepping out of three-inch heels. I’d stumbled to my bathroom on aching feet. Alone with my weeping reflection, I looked at extensions weaved into bleached blond hair and large breasts my mom

bought for me. My life was becoming that dress in your closet you didn’t remember liking enough to buy. I asked, “Who are you?” After a momentary flicker of fame, my last supporting

role in a movie didn’t even make it to the Redbox. I was ready to give up.

Lost in the moment, I took scissors from the medicine cabinet and began to cut my hair. Blond chunks of hair plummeted down along with my overpriced extensions. Following my

descent into crazy, I dropped the scissors in the sink and stepped back. It was the type of haircut a little girl would give her Barbie doll. Placing my hand over my mouth, I thought, Oh God, I’m really going to hate this in the morning.

I’d had the uneasy feeling that I wasn’t alone and looked up to see a man behind me in the mirror. I couldn’t believe it! There he stood, his reflection clear and undeniable. He was older than me, tall and ordinary, yet his eyes took on a glow.

The nurse turned back to me, and within the blink of an eye, the man vanished, and the horror of the memory gave way to confusion.

My father entered the room, saying something about the Jell-O he was holding.

“Who was he?” My voice was small and shaky.

My father said, “We don’t know yet. You fought hard, kiddo, and the police have his DNA now. They’ll be in touch.” He set the Jell-O on a half dresser. “They’re going to get this guy.”

When he finds out I’m not dead, he’ll come back. I knew it. A fresh wave of fear cut through me. “Don’t leave,” I pleaded. I didn’t feel safe here, but the idea of home wasn’t any better.

“And I can’t go back to that condo, Dad.” Each word barely reached a whisper and left me more exhausted.

“You don’t have to, Hannah. You can live with me for a while until you’re ready.” He gestured to a bouquet. “Rory sent flowers.”

“Isn’t he here?”

“No, sweetie. He’s in England. You haven’t seen him in years.” His voice was tinged with concern. He took a seat in the chair by my bed.

My brother, Collin, entered the room. He had flown in from New York. Family was always family.

He said, “You’re like Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

I loved Buffy, but it wasn’t cool like that.

Collin tossed a duffel bag on the chair and unzipped it.

“Collin brought some things for you,” my dad announced.

My brother’s eyes softened with hurt and love. He began placing several items on a table which he swiveled before me. He lifted a pink heart cut out of construction paper adorned with glitter.

Lilly, my friend from the retirement home where I volunteered, had made it. I silently read: “To Hannah, my beloved, may all your dreams come true.”

The staff there said Lilly expired, as if she was old milk. She had lived to 101 years old, never losing the sparkle in her

blue eyes. She had outlived everyone who loved her except for me. I mumbled her name.

Next, I warmly regarded a photo in a beautiful frame of cut glass of my mom and me wearing silly hats and cheesy smiles. She died in a car accident on Valentine’s Day. Then I stared at the third and final item. It was a photo of me with Rory, Christian, and Paul, who had his arm around me. We were about sixteen in the picture, posed in front of a Christmas tree. It was in a white wood frame that read “Forever Young” in sparkly letters. My boys, I thought.

They were my friends from my schooldays at Allston.

I remembered asking my dad to bring them. He must have told Collin. “Thanks,” I muttered. If there was a fire in my apartment, these are the things I’d have grabbed on my way out. My dad and brother stared at a lady cooking on TV while I admired my treasures. Everything seemed brighter somehow with these simple items in front of me.

“I’m going for a little break. I’ll be back,” my dad stood.

I nodded in consent. Everything about my dad looked secure and confident except for a flicker of nervousness in his eyes. He bent down and kissed me on the head before leaving the

room.

Collin settled into the chair next to my bed and asked, “Can I bring you anything at all? Some Jell-O?”

What was it with my family and Jell-O? “No.”

My arm seemed heavy as I reached to take hold of his hand. I fought to keep my eyes open. After a few minutes, a warmth flooded over me, pushing everything else away. I was still

holding Collin’s hand when everything went dark.

Images played in and out of focus, a vision of three boys with a sullen blankness. Two were maybe eight years old while the other was just a toddler. They stood in a stark cellar with cement walls. A decaying staircase ran straight down the center of the space like a spine.

Then I heard my brother’s voice as he slowly came back into focus.

“You were sleeping,” Collin said. A strange expression flitted over his face. “I think we’ve entered the Twilight Zone.”

“What?” I didn’t understand.

“Well, I have good news and—” He searched for the right word. “Disturbing news, I think.”

“Out with it, Collin,” I moaned.

He paused, and my nerves jumped. “Rory’s here. He came all the way from England to see you.”

I pushed out the question, “Is this a joke?” Was Collin playing with my head?

“He’s right down the hall with Dad. Now Dad seems to like him. Rory golfs, too. It’s like they’re old friends. I told Rory I’d let you know he was coming.”

“If you’re lying, I’ll beat you,” I promised, only my voice trailed off, and the threat was scarcely audible. “I’m not lying.”

Collin shook his head and frowned.

Despite all the pain medication, my heart ached for this moment. I sat up, but the simple movement made me break into a sweat and left me breathless. When I caught my breath, I snapped, “Get me a hairbrush, makeup or something.” I completely panicked, but my voice only

reached an agitated whisper.

Collin said, “Rory’s a doctor now. He’ll understand.” There was no nice way to say it. I looked like hell. My heart monitor blared as Collin put his hand on my shoulder, instructing me

to lay back, and then the sound stopped. Threads were somehow hemmed into my awareness. I remembered things. I hurt Rory, and the regret was hard to live with. How had I forgotten? It was right after graduation. I could still picture Rory standing in the rain with flowers as the town car stole away. Even then, I wanted to go back, but instead, I sat there speechless and dazed.

My mom slid closer to me in the backseat. She moved on, talking about Los Angeles and how everything was waiting for me. For years, I blamed her for not taking control of my own

life. Even sedated, I was filled with nervous excitement. It was the same kind of stirring in my stomach I had back in my school days when I waited for him to touch me. It had been a gentle sweeping at the borders of intimacy, the feeling of a simple touch, the thought of a kiss.

“Do you want to hear the rest?”

“There’s more?” My words dripped with fatigue.

“It’s about what the police told Dad. They found out the name of the man who attacked you.”

Again, I sat up too quickly. A bubble of panic worked its way to my chest. I felt how I’d been sewed up the middle. Still, I forced my head up. Sweat dotted my brow, and the room

started to spin. Breathing deeply, I concentrated on each word Collin said.

“The guy’s name was Norman Biggs. He used an alias, too. Taylor. They had nothing on him in the US database, but Interpol did. They said he was from England and linked his DNA back to the killings in London as the Creeper.”

“That doesn’t make sense,” I replied, more puzzled than ever.

“It gets weirder. He had pictures of you all over his apartment. Pictures of you in England when you were at boarding school.”

I shook my head. “I don’t understand.”

“Dad didn’t want me to tell you what the police found out until later, so you’d enjoy your visit. I screwed up,” Collin casually said.

I heard a few knocks on the open door. Rory appeared in the flesh. He was handsome, older than the Rory I knew and wonderfully out of place. He said, “Hey, do you need some more time? I can come back.”

I did but said, “No. Come in. Um, I don’t usually look like this.”

Rory almost laughed. “I know.” A tear—small, but luminous—fell down his cheek. He quickly wiped it away, still smiling.

Our eyes met. The room started to spin.

“I missed you, Hannah,” Rory said with his perfect English accent. He stepped closer before

his image blurred.

Chapter Two

Waking

Suddenly, I struggled to hold back the swirl of darkness, pressing in on me. Then I saw it, a tiny, hopeful pinhole of light. I concentrated on that light. Before long, I was waking up.

A startled sound escaped me, and I felt the dip of my mattress as I sat up in bed.

“Are you alright, Hannah?” My roommate, Yasmin, groggily asked from her bed across the room.

I wasn’t sure. “Uh-huh.” Cold and shaky, I hitched the blankets up to my neck. I was still fourteen-years-old in my bed at the dorm in England. Now it was obvious that my night had been

spent in one of those weird dreams-within-a-dream. Admittedly, I had some problems with anxiety from time to time, but this was panic. Little sparks ignited in my central nervous system, making my heart race. I snatched my notebook from under my pillow, grabbing a pencil that was stuck between two pages. Words spun in a jagged, unintelligible hum in my head until I was able to make sense of them.

First, my shaky hand hovered over the page. I jotted down the names Norman Biggs and Taylor. In big, bold

letters, I wrote, Mom + Valentine’s Day.

Looking at my cell, I saw it was almost five when I clicked her contact. “Mom,” I said once she answered.

“Yes, baby?” Her sweet, oddly young voice was unmistakable.

“Did I wake you? I had an awful dream.”

“The time difference, remember? Sorry, you had a bad dream, but I can’t talk long. I’m getting ready to go back on set.”

I sat up straighter, the covers falling to my waist. “Please, Mom, never drive on Valentine’s Day.” I over articulated each word. It was that important.

“Oh, you’re sad because you had a dream I died. That’s so sweet.” My mom wasn’t like most mothers. “I won’t drive on Valentine’s Day,” she easily conceded. “I’ve had premonitions, too.”

Sometimes having a weird mom had its advantages. “I’ve got to go, baby.” Her voice was sweet, with a thread of impatience stringing her words together.

“I love you,” I said.

“Me too, but remember, not everyone believes in these things.” She started talking to someone else. “Do you know where the charcoal eyeliner is?”

“You’re right. Maybe we can talk more about it.” I never wanted to end our calls.

“We’ll Facetime later. Bye, honey.” She sounded a little distracted but no more than usual and ended the call.

I threw the blankets back, my heart drumming and body strong. The vein in my neck, right at the spot you put perfume on, pulsated, and I placed my palm over it to capture the flutter. Wired and unsure what to do next, I called Rory.

I was beginning to think he wouldn’t answer but heard

his voice. “Hey.”

“Listen, Rory, I’m freaking out. I know I’ve called you before when I had nightmares, but this was,” I hesitated and borrowed my mother’s word, “a premonition.”

***

I peeked over my shoulder every step of the way as I showered and dressed in my neatly pressed

school uniform and tie. I put my hair in a perfect ponytail. Once, Rory said it looked nice that way. Contemplating my reflection, I saw natural blond hair, wide brown eyes, and smooth skin, lightly tanned and freckled from my summer at home in L.A. I ran my fingers over my face as if

it was some new discovery, but it was the familiarity that I relished. I cupped my small breast for once thrilled to be flat-chested.

Yasmin had must have fallen back to sleep, because her familiar sleeping sounds resumed, so I slipped out and, closed the door. The long hallway stretched ahead. Once on the stairs, a strange shadow seemed to follow me which made me run down the remainder of the steps. When

I made it to the bottom stair, I threw the door open and stepped outside.

There was an early morning fog, and the school grounds were deserted. It seemed like I was walking through a

cloud. I pictured Jack the Ripper in the shadows as I explored the campus through the mist. I hugged myself and made my way along the stone path that led to the dining room. A breeze as soft as silk ruffled my hemline.

I arrived at the dining room. The doors opened. I had beaten Rory there and was first in the tray lines. A cafeteria lady gave me a look that had something extra to it that I couldn’t fathom. I said good morning to her, but she didn’t respond. Anxiety settled in my chest. After buying Rory and I each a milk carton and an order of pancakes, I sat at an empty table. It was silent except for a delicate whisper coming from the table behind me.

I dug my nails into the soft skin of my elbow. I’d vary between nervous habits until I caused a slight injury and then moved on to another. It was how I calmed myself, but now it wasn’t

helping. Nothing seemed right; I felt hyped up and restless.

The vaulted ceiling took on a spiritual countenance, and I sensed my smallness. Paranoia rose as a strange, tall boy walked across the dining room and swiftly passed. A man followed, sauntering by me with a foreboding and lingering smile.

Didn’t I know anyone on this campus?

My adrenaline was going as I searched the dining room for a familiar face. Just then, I spotted a student and teacher that I recognized and sighed with relief. I had freaked myself out for nothing.

Two girls, Trudy and Natalie, walked toward me, their arms locked together. Natalie was a shapely pixie and the meanest girl I knew. She turned her charm on and off like a faucet, and

Trudy was one of her pretty followers.

“Want to sit by Hannah?” Trudy slowed down to ask.

Natalie smirked. “God, no, she’s so weird.”

Both giggled as they strolled by. They stayed in my dorm house and were replicas of the girls from Beverly Hills that excluded me, but with different accents. After my dream, it didn’t matter much anyway.

Sticking a straw in my milk, I took a sip. I began to cut my pancakes—perfect rectangles, even sizes, even numbers— and tried to lose myself in the sanctity of routine.


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