The De Havilland Incident

When true love is stolen by a crime so heinous and so hideous the victim never obtains their rest. Sometimes even time and space bend to right the wrong.

The De Havilland Incident

***

The cold misty night air is oppressive, suffocating. Light filters eerily through the damp forest creating wispy apparitions. I’m so afraid. My body shakes uncontrollably and I hug my arms around myself as I kneel in the chilling wet leaves. My heart is pounding so heavily within my chest that I fear he will hear it. My breathing is ragged and my breath mingles with the mist and fog. My dress is torn and a dark bloody stain on my left shoulder soaks through to my skin, its touch like a burning ember. The house is barely visible through the trees and mist, but it’s no longer safe.

Crack!

Twisting back and forth quickly I search for the source of the sound. Run. Run! My legs almost fail me as I bolt towards the barn. The sounds of breaking branches are closing in on me urging me forward as thorns tear at my dress and skin. Don’t look back. Don’t look back!

Screaming as something grabs my ankle. I fall face first into the cold sodden earth. The musty smell of damp rotting decay gives me renewed energy; I don’t want to die like this. This isn’t the way my life is going to end! Grabbing at the earth and leaves I try to pull myself away; my fingers digging deep but finding no purchase. Rolling over I look down at a bloodied hand with two missing fingers grasping my ankle. He’s going to kill me! His bloodshot eyes betray desperation; his matted hair makes him look like a wild beast ready to devour his prey. I’m going to die!

I wake as always with a gasp and a scream; my body drenched in cold sweat and shaking out of fear. I stare at my fingers expecting to see dirt and leaves forced under my fingernails. My heart beats heavily in my chest as I roll over to find myself in the comfort of my own bed; the dark, damp forest and mist long gone. This dream, this nightmare, has plagued me my entire life. Taking a few deep breaths I slowly will myself to calm down.

This same nightmare has recurred at least once a week for as long as I could remember. When I was young my parents took me to see a psychologist. Back then I’d wake screaming and not stop until I found myself wrapped in my mother’s arms. It was the same dream over and over again. Nothing ever changed and I knew; I knew like I recognized my own reflection in the mirror that I was going to die in the most painful way.

The psychologist believed my being a young woman in my nightmare signified that I was feeling weak and vulnerable. Another psychologist attributed the fear and the threat of imminent death to some inner desire to feel protected, or that some hidden threat existed within my home environment. Perhaps, he declared one day to my parents, mold or other toxins were in my bedroom. No matter how much money my parents spent on cleaning and scrubbing, sleeping pills, and even anti-psychotic drugs, my nightmares continued. I hate going to sleep.

As the years progressed I hid the nightmares from my parents, no longer wanting to be taken from doctor to doctor or see my parents struggle to pay the bills. When I woke after a nightmare I’d muffle my tears and screams with my pillow. As soon as I was living on my own I had fewer worries about rousing my parents, but the nightmares ruined every relationship I ever had. It’s rather hard to explain to a new girlfriend that I didn’t have PTSD or hadn’t been molested as a child.

Wiping the cold sweat from my brow I got out of bed and got ready for work. I check myself out in the mirror halfway expecting to see a reflection of the girl in my dreams. The nightmares feel so real I’ve struggled at times with my own identity. Are the dreams real and this life isn’t, or is it the other way around? I just don’t know.

The clock showed five twenty. With a quick bite to eat and an hour drive I’d still be at the office by seven. Hopefully I’d be able to quickly put the nightmare behind me and focus on my work.

***

Walking into FBI headquarters, I sighed deeply. The nightmare had shaken me worse today than others, but I knew work would help me put things into perspective.

“Good morning, Mr. Patterson.”

“Morning, Frank. You know you can call me Mark.”

“You young agents are always trying to buck protocols. It’ll always be Mr. Patterson, Mr. Patterson.”

Placing my briefcase, wallet, phone, and badge into the green basket I stepped through the metal detector. “How long have you been working for the FBI, Frank?”

“Thirty-five years. Just counting the days until retirement now.”

“I bet thirty years ago you were just like me.”

Frank laughed. “I’ve never been a skinny white kid.”

Grinning I reached for my things. “Have a good day, Frank.”

“You too, Mr. Patterson.”

Being a newbie agent, meaning I still had less than five years of service, I was relegated to the cold case division and that consisted mostly of desk work. Somewhere in the vast netherworld of the FBI someone would randomly pull a file and drop it on my desk for review. Most of the time there was nothing new to pursue, but the odd case I actually got a chance to do further investigation outside of the office. Settling in for the day I began rummaging through the file folders on my desk.

“Happy birthday, Mark. Are you going out for beers tonight to celebrate?”

Samantha Rawlings always got my heart going in a good way. “Thanks for remembering. You buying?”

“I’ll come along for one or two. I’ve got to meet my boyfriend later though.” There bursts my happy bubble and on my birthday too. I thought she was single. “By the way, here’s a new case for you. The staff in Archives like pulling cold cases on the anniversary of the incident. This one’s thirty years old today.”

“Same age as me, although sometimes I feel much older.”

“I’ll swing by at five. Have a good day, Mark.”

“Thanks, Sam. See you later.”

Leaning back in my chair I stared a moment at the slightly stained rectangular fiberglass ceiling panels before glancing at the tattered file folder. I ran my fingers over the typed label. Case 47912. Beneath the fading type were the words, ‘The De Havilland Incident.’ I picked at the corner of the folder and slowly started to open it. Sweat broke out on my forehead; my office felt smaller, claustrophobic. Pushing my chair away from my desk I stood quickly and took a deep breath. My heart was pounding once again. What’s wrong with me?

Looking back at the folder I all but forced myself to sit back down and yanked at the folder much like pulling off a Band-Aid. The quicker I opened it the easier it would be. Reading over the file the summary page gave me the basics. Amanda De Havilland, age twenty, five-foot eight, one hundred and thirty pounds, brunette hair, and blue eyes. On December 8, 1987 she was raped, parts of her body removed, burned alive, and buried in a shallow grave on the De Havilland family estate in Lynchburg, Virginia.

Her parents were away on vacation at the time and the prime suspect was Johnny Wheatson. Evidence was found in his apartment linking him to the crime but he himself was never found. No prosecutions were ever made. There were several pieces of conflicting evidence and thus the case was never closed.

Turning the top page I found a picture of Amanda De Havilland. She was beautiful. Her eyes and smile reflected a casual joy as if smiling was her natural state. Long brunette hair cascaded down her back and framed her face highlighting her sapphire blue eyes. She wore a conservative, yet flattering dress. She had a look about her of sweet innocence. I could almost picture her sitting with her friend in a coffee shop or combing out her hair in her bedroom…

“Mark, I’m making rounds. Do you want anything for lunch?” Lunch? I looked at the clock and it was almost noon. Four hours had passed. “You all right, man? You look like you saw a ghost.”

“I’m fine. Thanks, Bob. I’ll pass on lunch today.”

“Catch you tomorrow then.”

Pushing myself away from my desk I got up and took a walk to clear my head. I’d lost four hours staring at Amanda’s photo. Maybe I need a vacation?

The clock read 12:47pm when I stepped back into my office. The case folder and Amanda’s picture were still open on my desk. Pulling Amanda’s picture to the side I gasped at the shocking photo of Amanda lying in a shallow grave. Most of her skin was burned black, her hair mostly missing. One eye was open but was opaque and white. Two fingers were missing from her left hand. Where skin was still intact, it was covered in cuts, scrapes, bruises, and dirt. Shaking my head I had to walk away again. This is your job. It’s a cold case for a reason. Help her find justice.

Striding purposefully back to my desk I rapidly began flipping through the photos. An autopsy photo showed a pentagram carved into Amanda’s forehead. A German shepherd hung from the rafters of a barn, blood was sprayed everywhere. Pictures of weapons, a bloody cloth, and evidence at the suspect’s apartment. A bloody handprint on Amanda’s bedroom door frame.

The next picture made my world spin. Fragments of my nightmare played through my mind. Reaching for the wall I steadied myself and then ran to the bathroom just managing to get into a stall before I lost the contents of my breakfast. This isn’t happening! The photo had shown Amanda’s dress. It was torn and bloodied, but once had been white with small pink flowers on it. A bloody stain was on the left shoulder. It was the same dress the woman in my nightmares was wearing.

There’s no way my dreams and this case which I’ve never seen before are connected. Get a grip on yourself. Pushing through the stall opening I grasped the sink with two white-knuckled hands. I’m mistaken. This is all just because of my nightmare last night.

Twisting the tap I let the cold water flow freely over my hands and through my fingers. Splashing water against my face felt like stepping into a cold winter’s day. I closed my eyes feeling a wave of calm wash over me as if each drop of water falling from my face took a little bit of my anxiety with it. Opening my eyes I let out a long breath. It’s so cold! My breath left my mouth like wispy fog. Looking into the mirror I stared into the eyes of a distraught brunette woman. Her face was dirty and I could clearly see where her tears had cleaned parts of her skin. Her hair was matted with pieces of yellowing and brown oak and ash leaves sticking in it. There was someone moving behind her. She didn’t see what was going on. Turn! Turn around! A black gloved hand reached for her right shoulder.

A gentle squeeze on my right shoulder caused me to jump away from the mirror. My heart was beating so fast I struggled to get a breath. “Mark, take it easy! Are you all right? Do I need to call the medics?”

“Sorry, Ted. You just startled me. I’ve got this new case and it’s rattling me.”

“It’s a cold case, right?”

“Yeah.”

“It’ll be cold for a while. There’s no urgency on it. Set it aside and take a break. I’ve had my fill of gory cold cases myself sometimes.”

“Thanks, Ted.”

“No worries.”

Glancing back in the mirror everything was back to normal. The scene I’d just witnessed was never in my dreams. The person in the mirror didn’t feel like the man that grabbed Amanda’s ankle. Could it be that there’s more than one killer? What am I thinking? I need hard, analytical facts, not figments of my imagination. Ted’s right. I need to get away from this case for a while.

Back in my office I closed the file folder like it would burn me if I touched it. I put on my jacket, pulled a large rubber band from my drawer, bound the file folder, and walked it purposefully back to Archives. Not wanting to talk to anyone about it I dropped it into an empty in-basket. Every step away from the file made my breathing easier and my heart settle more and more. Taking a couple of hours of sick time would allow me a chance to get my head back in the game. Sure, I’d miss beers with Samantha on my birthday but she was taken anyways. I headed to my car and drove home arriving just in time to answer my phone.

“Hello, son. Happy birthday.”

“Thanks.”

“You sound tired. I wish you’d move back to Indiana. Things are much quieter out here.”

“I’ve got to put another couple of years here before I can have a good chance at getting a transfer.” I waited for the guilt line and didn’t have to wait long.

“We’re not getting any younger and it would be nice to have you closer. Are you doing anything special tonight? Thirty years is a milestone. Makes us feel old.”

“I’d planned on going out for a couple of beers with some friends from work but I wasn’t feeling well and decided to come home. I’ll do something on Friday.”

“You’re not having problems sleeping are you?”

“Sleeping has never been the problem.”

“Well rest up and enjoy wat’s left of your birthday. We love you, son.”

“Love you too.”

Plopping myself down on the couch I stared off into space for a while. It was only five o’clock and I still wasn’t hungry even though I’d thrown up my breakfast and skipped lunch. The craziness from the dream, the case, and the scene in the bathroom had completely unsettled me. Getting up I wandered into the bathroom and opened the mirror. I stared at the old bottle of Molindone that a psychiatrist prescribed them for me fifteen years ago as an antipsychotic. I keep them around in case things get out of hand even though they were long past their expiry date. Today was the first time I’d thought about taking one in years. I can’t go down that road.

Closing the mirror I splashed more water on my face and deliberately ignored my reflection. I moved into my bedroom and lay down on my bed.

***

I was in my bedroom as I was just getting ready for bed. There was something special about my room that made me feel safe. The roses from the greenhouse that I’d cut earlier in the day created a pleasant, sweet fragrance. My pictures of family and friends and my ribbons from horseback riding sat on my shelf. Mother and father were away for the week which gave me a chance to think. Something strange had been going on. Seeing Tony with the frightening man and then the strange conversations I overheard between Tony and my father. There are things very much out of the ordinary going on. I’m afraid perhaps father or Tony might be involved in something bad. My fingers absentmindedly grasped a smooth gold ring on my necklace. I smiled at the flutter in my heart.

The sound of hasty knocking at the front door startled me. I’m not expecting anyone. Glancing at myself in the mirror I made sure I was presentable, straightened my dress, and hurried downstairs. The knocking continued.

Thump, thump, thump! Thump, thump.

“I’m coming!” The pounding continued and I thought about calling Tony as I glanced at the phone on the counter. I turned towards the door. “Who is it?”

“Amanda, I must speak with you!”

The voice was tense, muffled. Did something happen to mother and father? What if they need my help? “Just a minute.” Leaving the chain on the door I cracked it open. The door burst open sending splinters of wood everywhere. I was flung back, crashing into a wall table sending a vase of fresh flowers flying and shattering on the floor. Shaken, I glanced at the doorway. A man with wild hair stood blocking the door. His left hand was bandaged and dripping blood.

Screaming, I scrambled to my feet and ran upstairs to my room. The man’s footsteps sounded so close behind me. I slammed the door to my room shut, but the man’s left hand had just pushed in. The door crushed his bleeding hand leaving blood all over the door frame. My door burst open as the man let out a roar of pain. He reached for me but I pulled back, his hand gripping my ring necklace. He threw it to the side and I watched in morbid fascination as it slipped through the floor heating vent and out of sight. Diving for the door my momentum was quickly halted by his hand grabbing my left shoulder. Hammering at it with my fist I twisted away and ran as his screams of pain echoed through the hallway after me. I had to get out of the house. I had to get to the forest.

My fear was palpable. I didn’t want to open my eyes as I didn’t know what to expect. My heart raced as if I’d just run a sprint. My shoulder felt cold and clammy and the air smelled musty like a change room. Forcing my eyes open I was greeted by utter darkness. I didn’t know where I was or even who I was. There was a subtle red glow beneath me and cautiously I looked towards it. On the floor was my clock. 2:37 AM. This was my bedroom. Fumbling for the light switch I found I was still wearing my work clothes and shoes. My bed was a mess and everything from my nightstand was on the floor.

Pulling off my jacket I discovered the dampness on my shoulder was from sweat. The musky smell was coming from me. Sitting on the edge of the bed I placed my face in my hands. I’ve lost it. That dream was new. Am I really seeing Amanda’s last hours? Why am I seeing things from her perspective?

Shaking my head I stripped out of my clothes and headed for the bathroom. My sense of dread and fear was so great that I locked the bathroom door before getting into the shower and upon leaving the shower I carefully avoided the mirror. I contemplated taking Molindone again but that needed to be a last resort. There’s no way I could sleep so I decided to head in early to work.

It was just past five in the morning when I sat down at my desk. A note from Samantha was stuck to a case file. ‘Missed you last night. Hope you had a great birthday. I was down in Archives and they gave me this case file for you. They thought perhaps it got misplaced. See you tomorrow. Sam.’ I peeled the sticky note from the file folder. The De Havilland case had found its way back to my desk.

Tempting as it was to request the case be given to someone else or to take it back to Archives, I recalled a quote from Mark Twain. He said, “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.” Perhaps the reason I have this case is to finally be free of the nightmares. To move forward I have to face my fears head on. I don’t know why I’m having these dreams and visions, but for my own sanity, I’ve got to finish this.

I opened the folder with the determination of a boy stepping up to the plate believing he would hit a home run. I can’t say that it was easy for me to look at the pictures again. It took every ounce of courage to turn them over one by one. If my dreams and visions were somehow real, how would this change the case? Reaching the depositions I carefully began reading the details. Tony Henderson stated he had come to the home around six in the morning per his normal schedule. He noted the front door had been left open and quickly found signs of struggle. He placed the call to the police at 6:13am, December 8, 1987 and continued to run through the house and call for Amanda. Discovering the family pet in the barn he then called Margaret and William De Havilland telling them he feared for Amanda’s life and to return from the family cabin in Coleman Falls as quickly as possible. The police arrived at 6:41am and called in backup support for a search party. At 10:43am Amanda’s body was found buried in a shallow grave behind the barn.

Johnny Wheatson was an employee at one of William De Havilland’s furniture manufacturing operations. A newspaper article stated that Johnny Wheatson lost two fingers in an accident with a band saw two days prior to the incident. Eye witnesses stated he was about to be taken to the hospital when he screamed out it was William’s fault and threatened him and his family before running from the manufacturing plant. DNA analysis and blood typing placed Wheatson at the De Havilland home and evidence was found in his apartment with weapons used and satanic worship paraphernalia.

Interviews with Amanda’s friends suggested Amanda had no enemies and was loved by everyone. Margaret and William were out at their family cabin forty minutes away at the time of the murder and William had personally tried to reach out to Wheatson to make sure he was taken care of after the accident, but he was unable to find him. Margaret was devastated and had several breakdowns while William had exhibited violent anger after the murder. Tony Henderson was an ex-Marine and employed by the De Havillands as head of security had an alibi with his girlfriend at the time of the murder.

While this appeared to be an open and closed case, the case remained open due to the fact Wheatson was never found and evidence discovered at his apartment appeared to have been cleaned of fingerprints. Wheatson remains the only suspect, but questions arose as to why his fingerprints, blood, and DNA were found all over the scene and yet he took the time to wipe fingerprints from the weapons.

Turning to my computer I searched the FBI records database for Johnny Wheatson. His rap sheet displayed several minor drug infractions back in 1983-1986, a speeding ticket in March of 1987, and nothing else. His record indicated little to suggest he was capable of such a crime. His photo sent chills down my spine. He was the man from my nightmares. I’d gripped my desk awaiting the inevitable fear induced fugue state but nothing came.

Getting up and away from my desk I went and got some coffee before returning to my office. I’d made up my mind. I needed to go to Lynchburg, Virginia and see the scene itself. I left a message for Samantha to do me a favor and find out what she could on Margaret and William De Havilland and asked her to call me. I called ahead to the De Havilland home and Margaret De Havilland graciously suggested I could meet her at ten o’clock the next day.

Jumping in my car I began the four hour drive to Lynchburg hoping to be ready to get a fresh start in the morning. At 1:37pm just as I was pulling into a motel in Lynchburg Samantha returned my call.

“Hey Mark. Where are you at?”

“Lynchburg. Just staying for the night and expecting to return to DC tomorrow.”

“This about that cold case I left for you?”

“Yes. Amanda De Havilland was murdered on the family estate thirty years ago. I’m just following up a few leads. Did you get anything on Margaret or William?”

“Yes. William De Havilland was a Senator from 1988 until 2004. He has no record and was pretty much squeaky clean his entire life. Oddly, it was the murder of his daughter that propelled his career in politics. His key running platform was violent crime and Amanda’s death factored heavily in his winning the election. Several years ago he transferred into an extended care facility right there in Lynchburg. I can send you the address if you like.”

“Please.”

“Margaret barely has any information out there about her at all. She’s like a ghost. She didn’t even campaign with her husband.”

“Thanks, Samantha. I owe you one. One more thing. Can you look up Tony Henderson for me?”

“Sure thing.”

“Talk to you later.”

I checked into my room just as my phone beeped with a text message from Samantha. She’d sent the address of the extended care facility and let me know I had a couple hours left for visiting today. Dropping off my things I quickly got settled and drove out to a row of white buildings that was the area’s only extended care housing. Stepping into the foyer I asked to see William De Havilland.

“And you are?”

“Mark Patterson. I’m with the FBI.” Flashing my badge the woman gave me a once over.

“What’s this about?”

“I’m following up on an old case that involved his daughter. I’d just like to ask him a few questions.”

“Fifteen minutes. He gets agitated very easily and his memory isn’t like it used to be. You can find him in room four-twenty-five just down the hall.”

“Thank you.”

These places always depress me. I hope my life will end quickly and I won’t have to live my final years slowly falling apart and losing my mind. The sterile hallways smelled faintly of Pine Sol. Finding the room I peered inside. The sun’s rays streamed through the window and past the slightly aging yellowing drapes. William De Havilland sat in an old leather chair and was dressed in a robe. There was something familiar about his face…

“Father!” I leapt into his arms.

“How’s my ray of sunshine?”

“I had so much fun today in school.”

A man approached us and father just scowled at him and waved his hand. The man turned around and left as father put me on his lap. He smiled at me. “Tell me all about it, but first, I have something for you.” He pulled a red rose from a vase and handed it to me. Bringing it to my nose I smelled the fresh fragrance and smiled, hugging my father.

“Thank you! It’s so beautiful!”

“It is beautiful, but it pales in comparison to you.”

He loved Amanda. “William De Havilland?”

The man looked up at me and frowned. His face lined with wrinkles permanently etched into his face. “Who’s asking?”

“I’m Mark Patterson with the FBI. I was hoping to ask you a few questions about Amanda.”

“Go away!”

His countenance turned dark. I needed something to ease the situation. “Did Amanda ride horses?”

“Horses?” His eyes looked distant for a moment. “She loved to ride and I used to watch her for hours. Why have you come here? Are you punishing me in my final days on this wretched earth?”

“Thirty years ago your daughter was murdered and the murderer was never found. I’m trying to bring justice and closure for you and your family.”

“I deserved her death. It was my mistake that caused her murder and I’ve paid every day of my life since. Now get out!” The meeting was over. I looked back at the man from the doorway. Tears fell from his aged and dim eyes. “Get out!” He was yelling now and nurses were running.

He carried the guilt of his daughter’s death for thirty years. It was written all over his face.

***

I drove around town for a while until spotting a diner. I wasn’t hungry yet so I walked around a few blocks to clear my head.

“You have the gift.”

Startled by the voice I paused and turned around. A strangely dressed middle-aged woman stood in the doorway to her little house that had a sign out front. The sign had a slightly gothic font title, Madam Claire’s. In the house’s window a framed picture of Oprah with the words “I’ll always appreciate your gifts Claire!”

“Are you talking to me?”

“Your dreams are a gift.”

“I don’t believe in any of your mystic fiction, lady.”

She shrugged. “I’d imagine that many things you believe are not true and many things that are true you don’t believe.” Turning around I started walking again. “You can’t change fate, Amanda.”

Startled by her words I turned back around to find the woman gone.

Sitting in a café I pushed food around my plate. The nurses at the care facility pretty much told me not to come back. The creepy palm reader said something about Amanda. What’s that all about? Pulling out Amanda’s photo I stared at it with a strange feeling like I was looking in a mirror.

“Why are you looking at Amanda De Havilland’s photo?”

The middle-aged waitress was frowning and appeared visibly upset. Her light blue dress was partially covered by a stained apron and her nametag read Elizabeth Watson.

“You knew Amanda?”

“She was my best friend. Why do you have her picture?”

“I’m with the FBI and am investigating her cold case. Do you have a few minutes?”

“Let me see your identification.” Pulling my badge from my back pocket I handed it to her. She scrutinized it carefully, almost contemplatively before handing it back. “Give me a couple of minutes to wrap a few things up.”

“Thank you.”

A few minutes later Elizabeth slipped into the booth opposite from me. She was very attractive and her brown eyes held mine defiantly. “I haven’t seen the likes of you around here for years. Why are you digging up past pain? We’ve all suffered enough.”

“You say you were her best friend, yet I didn’t see a deposition from you. How much do you remember about Amanda and the events leading up to her death?”

“Everything. I remember everything like it was yesterday. The De Havilland family told the investigators not to question me.” She glanced at Amanda’s photo. “May I?”

Watching Elizabeth closely I could see moisture creep into the corners of her eyes. Her blonde hair still held a shine and I noticed she didn’t wear a wedding ring. “You loved her, didn’t you?” Flustered, she put the picture down and stared at me. An explanation was due. “I’ve handled a lot of cold cases and after thirty years even best friends have been able to get over the pain and move on. You’re a beautiful woman and yet, unless you choose not to wear a ring, you’re unmarried.”

“I can’t speak for Amanda, but yes, I loved her. It was why the De Havilland’s didn’t want me interviewed. They couldn’t afford a scandal so they paid me off to go away and stay quiet.”

“Tell me about her.”

“We grew up in the area together, but we never really met until college. We became the best of friends over a few years. There was just something about her. She could light up a room just by walking into it. She was the sweetest, gentlest, and kindest person I’ve ever met. Over the years, we’d both struggled with relationships. Amanda had determined to keep her virginity for her wedding night and the guys she went out with never could wait. I, on the other hand, struggled with serial abusive boyfriends. Five months before Amanda’s murder, I was raped.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“Over time I counted it a blessing. Not the pain and disabling fear it caused, but it was the catalyst for me to find solace in the arms of my best friend. A few days before Amanda was murdered, December second, we were commiserating together about our lives. She just dumped her boyfriend the night before and… Anyways, with a bottle of wine and a cool night we found ourselves snuggled together under a blanket musing about how we would be perfect for each other if only one of us could be a man. That’s when I kissed her for the first time.”

“Did you become lovers?”

“From the moment of the kiss, things were different for us both. We felt so free and relaxed around each other. Each day I woke with a smile on my face knowing in my heart I found my love. I was anxious to explore our budding relationship as I suspect she was. It was so gloriously fun sneaking around and enjoying each other’s company like we never did before. That was until two nights before her murder.”

“What happened?”

“We saw something horrible. The De Havilland security man, I can’t recall his name now…”

“Henderson?”

“Yes, that’s it. I never liked him; he was sort of dark, brooding, and creepy. Anyways he and another man were arguing with one of Amanda’s father’s workers. We saw him cut off his fingers. We were terrified. Amanda wanted to confront her father about the situation but never could get the time with him. They left for the family cabin and then that’s when it all happened. Why? Why would anyone kill someone so wonderful?” Elizabeth pulled a napkin from a container on the table and dabbed her eyes.

“How did the De Havilland’s know about you and Amanda?”

“After our night together when we shared our first kiss, we were over at Amanda’s house. Henderson caught us kissing in Amanda’s bedroom. We begged him to secrecy, but he knew. A few days after Amanda’s murder, I came by with flowers. That’s when Amanda’s father and Henderson sent me away. I was devastated. I wasn’t even allowed at the funeral.” Her tears were flowing freely now.

“I’m truly sorry for your loss. How did you cope?”

“I moved to Boston for five years before my mother took ill and I had to come back. I stayed here ever since.”

“Were you able to move on with your life?”

“No. There was no way. You’d understand if you knew Amanda. No one could have compared and no one ever did. I never married and never had another relationship after Amanda. My heart just wouldn’t let me and I had no desire to ever be with another man. No offense.”

“None taken.”

“I don’t know what would have happened between us had she not been murdered. I have no illusions that it would have been easy. Back then those types of relationships were not as accepted as today. But still, I think we would have been wonderful together.”

“What do you think happened?”

“The published story was pure fiction. What Amanda and I witnessed a few days before her murder clearly indicated that Tony Henderson was involved in something bad. It makes sense, however, that this fellow took his revenge. I remember the paper said the guy that murdered Amanda worked in a furniture manufacturing plant owned by the De Havilland’s and that he lost his fingers in an accident. I know that wasn’t true. You should ask Tony Henderson about that if you can find him. Last I heard he was on some trip around the world again. Listen, I have to get back to work. I hope you find out what really happened.”

“Thank you.”

Watching her leave my breath caught in my throat and I felt my heart squeeze within my chest. Leaving a generous tip I headed back to the motel unable to shake the feeling of deep loss that had descended upon me like the darkness of night.

***

“How are things going out there, Mark?”

“Not bad. I got to see William De Havilland. That was a bust, but I stopped in a diner and the waitress knew Amanda De Havilland well. I got quite a story from her. Did you find out anything on Tony Henderson?”

“Not much. He has a military record, was honorably discharged, and went to work for William De Havilland in 1979. The De Havillands had him in their employ until twenty months ago. That date coincides with William’s admittance to the extended care facility.”

“Thanks, Sam.”

“No worries, Mark. Have a good night.”

The documents from the case were spread over the bed so I gathered them together and put them on the nightstand. I was exhausted and mentally drained from the last few days and decided to try to get some extra sleep. Feeling a little on edge I dead bolted and put the chain on the motel room door then checked that the window was secure before turning in.

I’m being dragged through the forest. My dress is bunched up under my breasts. Screaming I reach for a small tree trunk. My wrists are tied together with yellow nylon rope. My ankle is pulled so hard my hands rip free of the trunk. Fight! I’m kicking and dragging my hands through the rotting leaves.

An orange glow lights up the mist in the forest as I’m dragged through the open barn door and tossed into the hay. Blood! There’s blood everywhere. It smells like copper. Rolling over I look up to see our family dog hanging by a rope, its body cut and sliced open. Scrambling to my feet I run for the door only to be grabbed from behind and a burlap sack put over my head. I scream again but my voice is cut short by something heavy and hard hitting my head. My mouth is bleeding as I fall back into the blood-soaked hay. A rough hand holds my throat. I’m twisting and kicking but I can’t get free. I’m going to die! Another hand tears my panties from my body. I feel his body press my legs apart and then pain; intense pain as he tears me open and forces himself inside me. My screams mere muffled whimpers.

The song Alone by Heart suddenly begins playing. Jerking upright in bed I glance at the clock radio. 4:23 am. Slamming my fist down on the radio turns off the music. Falling back into the bed I curl up into a fetal position. My body aches, my breathing ragged, and I have an overwhelming sense of dread. There’s something in the bed. Get up! Turn on the lights and get up!

Forcing myself to roll out of bed I turn on the lights and look around. Yanking the blanket off the bed I scream and fall back into the wall. There are rotting leaves and a yellow nylon rope in the bed. My wrists are burning. Holding them up I find blood and burns on my wrists. Fumbling for my phone I bring up the camera app but by the time I aim it towards the bed there’s nothing there and my wrists are fine.

Grabbing the blanket I curl up on the chair and stared blankly at the bed. It’s no longer safe and I just realized I left the Molindone at home. There is no way I’m going to try to sleep again.

***

“Mrs. De Havilland? I’m Mark Patterson of the FBI. We spoke the other day.”

“Yes. I understand you’re looking into Amanda’s case? I’m afraid I can’t talk at the moment, but feel free to look around the property if you like. I’ll be ready in thirty minutes.”

“Thank you. I’ll be back.”

The property was expansive, possibly forty acres in total size. The house had a long driveway that wound through the forest into a large grassy open space in front of the colonial-styled home. Walking around to the side of the house the forest hadn’t been cleared away. The feeling I had as I moved through the forest and seeing the decaying leaves on the ground was disconcerting. Even with the gap of thirty years, what I saw in my nightmares looked very much like what I was seeing now. I could feel my body being dragged through here.

A large wooden structure that had seen better days stood with its gray and curling sideboards slightly north of the house. The brush and weeds had overtaken the door but I pulled hard enough to open it so I could squeeze through. The interior was dimly lit by vine-covered windows but I recognized it as the place where Amanda was raped. My stomach churned and I heaved into the rotting remains of an old feed trough. Wiping my mouth I stepped back outside and took a deep breath.

This isn’t working. I’m facing my fear, but I’m losing it. This case isn’t going to help me. I was just at the car when Margaret De Havilland stepped out onto the front porch.

“Mr. Patterson? I can speak with you now. Please walk with me a bit. I thought I would show you one of Amanda’s favorite places. It’s not much now, but it was really something thirty years ago.”

“I’m sorry if my visit is making things hard for you, Mrs. De Havilland.”

“We all had to move on. Yes, it’s hard, but it’s also important. There was so little closure and I’m glad Amanda is not forgotten. Please, call me Margaret.”

“I spoke to an old friend of Amanda’s last night. Elizabeth. Did you know her?”

“Oh yes! Such a lovely girl. After Amanda met Elizabeth they were inseparable. I was surprised she never came to the funeral.”

“She told me she wanted to but was told not to come.”

“I don’t know why that would have been. I certainly didn’t tell her that.”

“She said it was Tony Henderson and your husband that told her not to come.”

“Hmmm. Here it is. Oh my… The place has fallen into disarray.”

The greenhouse would have been spectacular once. The floor was built of brick pavers and the walls and ceiling were glass. Dead rose bushes littered the containers; their brown woody stalks bending wearily towards the earth. All dead except for one brilliant long stemmed red rose. The color popped out amid the grays and browns of the greenhouse.

“Would you look at that? It’s a sign. Let’s see now… where did I put the pruners?”

Margaret turned and began looking around as I moved forward towards the rose. Bending down I took a deep breath and inhaled the scent of it. As I looked up I saw a man outside through the dirty and fogged window. His hair was wild and his hand was bandaged and bleeding.

“Here they are. Let me just cut that rose. Are you all right, Mr. Patterson?”

The man was gone but the pounding within my ribs wasn’t. “I’m fine.”

“Why don’t you take this to your girlfriend? It’s a shame to leave it here to wither and die.”

“Thank you.”

“Let’s go back inside. Have you learned anything new about the case?”

We walked back to the house and inside to the entryway. It all looked so familiar. “Just a couple of things that don’t quite add up.”

“Please, sit. Would you like some tea?”

“No, thank you.”

“What things aren’t adding up?”

“Elizabeth said that a few days before the murder she and Amanda saw Tony Henderson and a second man with someone from your husband’s work. She said Tony cut the man’s fingers off.”

“It’s true that the man came here but his fingers were cut off by a band saw at the furniture manufacturing plant. William had wanted to help the man.”

“But why not take him to a hospital? William’s deposition stated he had looked for the man and never found him.”

“The man blamed William and was very upset. Since Amanda was home I’m sure Tony took the man away from the house to try and convince him he needed help and to protect Amanda from seeing such a horrible sight. Things were so confusing after Amanda’s murder that I’m afraid none of us were thinking clearly when it came to giving depositions. I’m sure it had just slipped everyone’s mind.”

“I guess that makes sense and could have been misinterpreted by someone catching a glimpse of the situation.”

“Elizabeth also mentioned that Amanda had just broken up with her boyfriend.”

“That would have been Stephen. Oh yes. They had a big fight.”

“I didn’t see anything in the case notes about it. I would have thought he would have been interviewed.”

“The case was open and closed. The man from the plant murdered Amanda. There was so much evidence.”

“May I see Amanda’s room?”

“Of course. It’s at the top of the stairs and second door on the left. Can you see yourself out, Mr. Patterson?”

“I will. Thank you so much for your time.”

“My pleasure, Mr. Patterson. Don’t forget your rose.”

Nodding I stood and took the rose with me as I headed up the stairs. The paint was slightly different but everything was as I remembered from my dreams. Opening the door I glanced at the door frame where the bloody hand print had been. Shaking slightly I stepped into the room. They’d kept it the same. The bed, the photos, even the roses, now dried in a vase. The only difference was that there were no longer any signs of struggle.

The heating vent on the floor caught my eye. Could it be? Kneeling down I pulled the register grate off the floor and reached inside. There was something there. I pulled up a fine gold necklace with a ring on it. Just holding it made me feel joyful.

Moving over to the desk chair I sat down and looked at the simple ring. With one hand I held the rose and the other the ring. Two symbols of a life snuffed out. My fingers reached out and stroked the ring and my world went dark.

***

“Ohhhh we’re halfway there. Oh oh, livin’ on a prayer…”

What’s with the eighties music around here? I feel so rested. That was the best and most peaceful sleep I’ve had in ages. I opened my eyes to find the clock radio and nearly fell out of bed. I was in Amanda’s room! Sitting up I looked in the mirror at a beautiful girl with long brunette hair and blue eyes. Looking down I saw two breasts hidden beneath a layer of flimsy black silk. Oh my God! I wanted to scream, but I felt at peace, like I’d just come home. Sliding out of bed I stood before the mirror. I’m alive! I’m Amanda!

“That was Living on a Prayer by Bon Jovi. Here’s another hit to wake you up this Monday morning. Madonna’s, Who’s that Girl!”

I’m dreaming. Fear crept into my heart as I looked around the room. Everything was in place. The sun was streaming through the window. Reaching up I put my hands to my breasts. I’ve never had a dream like this. They’ve always been real but not this real.

“Amanda! Breakfast!”

“Be right down, mother!”

How did I know that was my mother calling up to me? Picking up a ribbon I knew I’d won it horse jumping when I was sixteen. I know it because I’m Amanda. But what about Mark Patterson? I’m him too. I need to figure this out. God I feel so good. Almost as if I was on autopilot I brushed out my hair and got dressed into a purple dress and ran downstairs.

“There you are. Are you meeting Elizabeth this morning?”

Am I? “Yes. I’m meeting her for coffee.”

“What’s the date today?”

“November thirtieth.”

Glancing around the room I spotted a calendar. “Is this a new calendar?”

“It was new in January. I guess I’ll have to get a new 1988 calendar soon though.”

November thirtieth, nineteen… eighty… seven…

“Are you all right, sweetheart? You look a little pale.”

“I’m a little out of sorts.”

“Is it your time of the month?”

“No. I just remembered an errand I need to do. Sorry, mom. I’ll be back later.”

Running back upstairs I closed the door behind me. I’m Amanda, thirty years ago. One week until I’m brutally murdered. How did this happen? Why? Grabbing the yellow pages I flipped through them until I found something. Writing down an address I grabbed my purse and jumped into my blue 1985 Honda CRX. It really is 1987.

As I drove I kept marveling at how good I felt. My hair, breasts, hips; everything was in the right place. Pulling up in front of a dilapidated house with a wooden sign hammered into the grass. The sign had a picture of a hand and the words, Madam Claire’s, I went to the front door and knocked. A middle-aged woman opened the door.

“You must be Madam Claire?”

“I named the place after my daughter. She’s got for more gifting than me so passing along the business with her name on it when I’m long gone made sense when I named the place. How can I help you?”

“Please don’t laugh.”

“Honey, I don’t laugh at much these days. Come in.”

“How do I even begin to explain this? I woke up this morning as me.”

“Unfortunately, honey, we all do.”

“Yesterday for me was December 10, 2017. I was born, December 8, 1987, the same day that I…” I waved my hands up and down myself. “…was murdered. In the future, I’m Mark Patterson, an FBI agent working on cold cases. My entire life I had nightmares of Amanda De Havilland’s murder and was given her cold case a few days ago. I came to Lynchburg to confront my fears and hopefully find some answers, but then I found an object of Amanda’s and now I’m here, Amanda, thirty years earlier and a week before I’m supposed to be murdered.”

“Hold out your hands.”

She took them in hers and she looked them over carefully.

“Here’s about all I can tell you for certain. You are Amanda and always have been. I feel no dichotomy in you, meaning your soul is in the right body. Now comes the speculation. If what you say is true, then I can only assume your spirit was at such unrest at the time of your murder that you were reborn as Mark Patterson. The supposed time of your death and your rebirth coincide. The dreams you had as Mark Patterson were Amanda’s, or your own, real memories. Perhaps it was fate that brought you back through time to right the wrongs done to you. I don’t know. Perhaps it wasn’t wrongs done but love lost? How do you feel?”

“I feel like me. I feel like Amanda. I feel deathly afraid.”

“What was done to you?”

“Raped, dismembered, and burned alive in some kind of satanic ritual.”

“My God. Of course you’re afraid. Listen, honey. I don’t know what happened or why, but if you know what’s coming, you should be able to change the future. Hell, I wish I knew what’s going to happen. I’d be a rich girl. One word of warning; if there truly was some kind of satanic ritual surrounding your death, then something akin to life atonement might be at work.”

“What’s life atonement?”

“Satanic rituals are all about power. They’re performed in order for power to be gained by the one performing the ritual. When a sacrifice is made the level of the sacrifice is proportional to the power gained. The death of an animal is worth far less than the death of a human. The death of a woman, greater than the death of a man. The death of a young, beautiful, virgin woman would potentially be worth many lives.”

I was stunned by what I was hearing. Is it possible I was just a sacrifice for power? Why am I even listening to this woman? “Thank you! What do I owe you?”

“Oh, honey. You owe me nothing. Just don’t die.”

Leaving the house I was a little more frightened than before. I needed to get to the diner to meet Elizabeth but I also needed to go home first.

Pulling up to the house I ran inside and straight to my room. Somehow I knew it would be there; the rose from the greenhouse. I found it lying on my nightstand as perfect as when it was cut. I looked for the ring necklace but couldn’t find it. That bothered me a lot but I had what I wanted and a few minutes later I pulled into the diner.

Stepping inside I spotted Elizabeth. My heart jumped. I shouldn’t feel this way but it was like I haven’t seen her in years. Maybe it’s just seeing how much I meant to her that makes me realize how much I love her? I rushed up and hugged her tightly. She looked so beautiful. “This is for you, Elizabeth!”

“It’s beautiful, Amanda.”

“It’s wonderful seeing you. How are you?”

Elizabeth looked at me oddly. “What’s come over you? You’re always smiling and cheerful, but you seem overjoyed to see me. You didn’t do the deed with Stephen did you?”

Stephen, my boyfriend whom I have a date with tomorrow. I felt a sharp pain between my legs and I started to shake. “No! Never!”

“Did he hurt you? Because I’ll kill him!”

“No… he’s been okay. I’m seeing him tomorrow night, actually.”

“You don’t seem too enthused.”

Looking at Elizabeth my heart went out to her. It was such a strange feeling to know I was about to die and yet seeing someone that moved me so much. “We should go somewhere, just you and me. We could drive down to Florida. It would be so much fun.”

Her warm fingers found mine across the table. There’s a spark there. I know it. “What’s got into you? We’ve both got classes with tests coming up.”

I need to change my future. “Please! Let’s go.”

“All right. But we have to bring our books to study so we can take our tests when we get back. I don’t want to fail.”

“Of course. Thank you, Elizabeth!”

Squealing tires outside the diner drew my eyes. A pickup truck was heading straight for us. Pulling Elizabeth’s arm I dove over her as the sickening crunch of metal sounded behind us. Wood, glass and debris rained down.

“Are you all right, Elizabeth?”

Her hand came to my face and caressed it gently. “You saved our lives. I’m fine. Are you hurt?”

“I think I’m okay.”

Pulling Elizabeth up I looked back towards the demolished booth. The old pickup truck had crashed through the wall right where our booth was. Nothing remained but shattered bits of glass and wood and the truck stopped at the register. The door of the pickup opened and an older man fell out onto the floor. Blood was spraying everywhere. Grabbing napkins I applied pressure to his severed neck artery. His eyes bored into mine.

“Hang in there! Someone call for help!”

His bloodied hand grabbed my wrist so hard it hurt. Blood was bubbling up through his mouth. “You can’t change fate.” He rasped.

“He’s gone, Amanda.” Someone is pulling me. “He’s dead. Come away.”

Looking down at my hands, they were covered in blood. My dress was as well. Elizabeth pulled me up and away from the man and hugged me tight.

“Did you hear him? Did you hear what he said, Elizabeth?”

“He didn’t say anything. We need to get you cleaned up. Are you sure you’re all right?”

“We need to leave town! We need to get away from here!”

“You’re scaring me, Amanda. What’s wrong?”

She’d led me into the bathroom and was washing my hands. “I have this feeling that something bad is going to happen to me if I stay. I need to get away from here.”

Her hands were brushing back my hair and her fingers were lingering on my cheek. “It’s a terrible shock to see someone die like that right in front of you. Let’s get you home.” She led me outside. I was in a daze. My car had been badly damaged by the truck.

“We’re going to have to stay here until the police can write their report.” Pulling Elizabeth down onto a curb we sat and waited. “Could we take your car or perhaps we could take a bus?”

“Amanda, I don’t understand. We just watched someone die and you’re still thinking of going to the beach? My car is in the shop. It was foolish of me to think we could simply leave together. What about Stephen?”

Elizabeth might have deep feelings for me but she’s not saying anything. I wonder if she feels I’m still with Stephen or perhaps we still need to have our first romantic kiss that sets everything in motion. “You’re right; perhaps it was a little foolish. Seeing a man die like this makes me realize what’s important.”

“As soon as the police let us go I’ll walk you home.”

“Thank you!” I hugged her tightly. Her arms wrapped around me protectively.

***

It was almost noon by the time we got to my house. Elizabeth left shortly after. There’s love there, I know it. I should leave. I should get on a bus and get out of town. I packed a small suitcase and purchased a ticket on the bus heading south.

My sense of relief was so great that when I sat down in the seat on the bus I closed my eyes and felt such comfort that I almost fell asleep. As the bus pulled away from the station the further I got away from home the better I felt. The bus was just nearing the city limits when the brakes squealed and the bus shook violently as it skidded down the road. A woman walked right in front of us and I watched in horror as I knew there was no way the bus was going to stop in time. At the last second she looked up and straight into my eyes. The sickening sound of the bus hitting her body and bouncing slightly as it rolled over top of her shook me to my core.

“No!”

It was clear that the woman was dead but as we stood around her mangled body I swore she turned her head towards me and spoke. “You can’t change fate.”

Grabbing my little suitcase I ran from the scene and hurried back towards town stopping in at Madam Claire’s. I knocked and poked my head inside the door. “Hello?”

“You’re back.”

“Awful things are happening every time I try to leave town. I was at the diner and my friend Elizabeth and I had just decided to go to Florida together when a pickup crashed into the diner. The dying man spoke to me saying I can’t change fate. Then I decided I would take a bus and a lady walked out in front of it. What’s happening?”

“Sit down, Amanda. You told me there were satanic rituals surrounding your death. If when you try to alter the course of the future someone dies, then you may already be bound to death. At some point someone committed your soul through a satanic ritual. The more you try to escape, the more people will die, including those you care about the most.”

“So you’re telling me I must yield to my own rape and murder or more people will die? This is crazy! I came back through time some thirty years so I can simply die all over again? There must be some way to stop it from happening.”

“I don’t know.”

“Most likely you’ve been bound by a triad.”

I turned to see a young woman about my age. “I’m assuming you’re Claire?”

“Yes.”

“We’ve met before.”

“Not in this life.”

“You said a triad?”

“Three people, almost always men, come together to choose to sacrifice another. There is a link to a Biblical reference. First John, two sixteen. For all that is in the world – the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and the pride of life – is not from the Father but from the world. The world is synonymous with the evil one. Each member of the satanic triad will gain power through your death.”

“But what has this got to do with me?”

“You’re the catalyst, the spark, the key, the one thing all three have in common. Your death will feed each one’s desires. One member of the triad desires sexual potency; to be irresistible to women. One desires fortunes, and the last desires fame and recognition.”

“But why me? Why am I the catalyst for them? I can’t give them those things.”

“For the desires of the flesh, you’re incredibly beautiful and yet you’re unattainable. I assume you’re a virgin and that you’ve chosen to wait until marriage or that your heart already belongs to another. For the desires of the eyes, you come from wealth yet it does not control or corrupt your heart. You could happily live without the comforts of money. For the pride of life, you have no desire to be famous or be recognized. Am I right?”

Frowning I slipped my hair behind my ear. “You’re right on all three, but I still don’t see how that makes me a catalyst.”

“You are the antithesis of what their desires are. By stealing your virginity the triad member will gain sexual prowess. By murdering you, another will take your wealth. By disposing of your body in a way that is uncaring and unrecognizing of you, that person gains recognition.”

“So if I was a slut that loved money and prestige I couldn’t be used?”

“Precisely.”

“What if I decided to lose my virginity before I’m raped and murdered?”

“Three members of the triad come together and perform a ritual to bind their intended victim. If what I overheard of your conversation is true, then this has already happened. That’s why if you try to alter your fate people will die. If you’re already bound, then try as you might, you won’t be able to give up your virginity. The binding worked because your character is true. You’re a gift to mankind and the evil one gains power by not letting you live.”

“How do I break it? How do I get unbound?”

“The three members of the triad need to die before you do.”

“I’m not a murderer and I don’t even know who they are.”

“Then I suggest you prepare your heart to meet your fate.” She stated it so flatly and in such an uncaring way. Claire turned and walked out of the house as I stared after her in disbelief.

“Don’t judge Claire too harshly. She sees so much she’s had to disassociate from her emotions to cope. It’s nothing personal.”

Leaving Madam Claire’s I walked home. The grand house looked like a prison to me now. Two people died today because I tried to change my fate. Am I willing to risk the life of my mother, my father, or Elizabeth for my own? Do I want anyone else to die because of me? I’m trapped.

Stepping inside the house my mother looked me over carefully. “You still look a little pale. Did you hear the news that two people died in town today?”

“I saw them both die.”

“I’m so sorry, sweetheart. That must have been terrible.”

“I’m not hungry for dinner. I’ll be in my room.”

“All right, but if you need anything just let me know.”

“Thanks, mom.”

I closed the door to my room and sat down on my bed tucking my legs up underneath me. Grabbing a pillow I hugged it tightly to my chest. Who am I? Why am I here? I was Mark Patterson, wasn’t I? What if this isn’t the first time this has happened? What if I’m in an endless loop, unable to get free?

What’s hard for me to grasp is that for the first time I finally feel like me; that I always have been Amanda and always female. I love everything about being Amanda; about being me. My life as Mark seems so distant and yet I still hold all those memories.

If I’m in a loop, forever repeating my rape and murder how can I help break myself out of the cycle? As Mark, I knew to find the ring in the register. What if I left a journal hidden in the same place? I can document what I’m seeing now in the hope that I’ll know for next time. God, please, I don’t want a next time.

Moving over to my desk I started writing out what had transpired and what I already knew. I was focused on my task, but I was also subtly reminded that I was a woman. It’s hard to believe this is really me and I feel so at home, and yet I also feel newness to my body. Could it be that I really did live thirty years as a man and I’m seeing my body fresh for the first time?

Having finished my writing I stood and let the worries that filled my mind drift away. I smoothed out my dress and looked in the mirror. I saw something move behind me. Jumping back and away, my hands grabbed for anything that could be used as a weapon. Feeling something cool and solid I wrapped my fingers around it tightly.

“You’re a little jumpy, Amanda.”

It was Tony Henderson. He really is creepy. “What are you doing here?”

“Unlike you as the privileged daughter who lives here, I work here.”

I hate his tone and condescending attitude towards me. “I know that. What are you doing in my room?”

“Margaret told me you saw people die today. I’ve seen that happen as well and came by to offer myself as a sounding board in case you wanted to talk about it.”

No, I don’t want to talk about it. Almost sending him away, my FBI training kicked in and stopped me. “What is it you really do for my dad?”

“I’ve been here for years and you only ask now?”

“It’s not like we need a security guard here at the house. Nothing has ever happened before.”

“Perhaps you mistakenly think of me as a security guard where I am more like an associate to your father helping him with his business ventures. The reason you’ve never seen anything here is because I do a good job and keep bad things from happening.”

Really? Is that why you weren’t here when I get raped and murdered? “How’s your girlfriend doing? What’s her name again?”

He narrowed his eyes at me. “I’m unattached at the moment.”

“I appreciate your concern over my wellbeing, Tony. If I think I need someone to talk to I’ll let you know.”

“There have been some strange events today. Perhaps you should stay close by. I wouldn’t want anything to happen to you.”

“Duly noted. If you don’t mind, I’m going to get ready for bed.”

“Goodnight, Amanda.”

Turning he closed the door behind him and I let out an audible sigh. I pulled the object that had been hidden behind my back and took a look at it. It was a plastic horse figure. I need a real weapon. Think, Amanda. I know what’s going to happen and when, but I don’t know why or who; at least not for sure. There must be something I can learn or discover.

As quietly as I could I snuck back downstairs and into my dad’s office. The office was large with wood paneled walls, bookcases filled with books, portraits and paintings, and comfortable chairs to sit in. It was truly a man-cave before man-caves even came into vogue. What caught my eye first were the rifles in the glass and wood rifle case in the corner. Moving over to the corner I opened the door and pulled out a shotgun. My experience as an FBI agent gave me quite a bit of firearms training, but Amanda really had none. Smiling at the realization I brought back some useful skills I checked the chamber to find it empty.

“What are you doing?”

I was in the middle of aiming the gun at a stuffed pheasant. “I was thinking of learning to shoot, father.”

“Put that away before someone gets hurt. Why on earth would you suddenly want to learn how to shoot?”

“I’m not always going to be protected by you and Tony. One day I’ll be on my own. Besides, if a zombie outbreak starts I need to be prepared.” Putting the shotgun away I turned back to my father. “Father, do you remember the time you gave me a rose?”

“I’ll never forget it. Why bring that up now?”

“I guess I’m at the age now where I need to make plans for my life and memories like that one are making me sentimental. I saw two people die today, father. It makes me think about my own life and if people will even know if I’m gone. Have I been a good daughter? Have I made a difference in this world?”

His eyes softened and he extended his arms. Surely he isn’t one of the triad. I let myself be enfolded by his arms and I smelled his familiar scent of Old Spice.

“You’re a perfect daughter, Amanda. I’m hoping you settle down, find a husband, and have at least three children that grow up to be just like you. If you really want to learn how to shoot, I’ll take you to the range after your mom and I get back from our trip up to the cabin.”

“I’d like that. Do you like Stephen, father?”

“That’s an odd question. I only really met him once.” Dad’s eyes lost focus and looked away from me. “Why do you ask?”

“You know I’ve chosen to wait until marriage and I’m not sure Stephen wants that. It’s 1987 and I’m wondering if I’m just being too old fashioned.”

Dad moved over to his little bar and poured himself a drink. His hand shook a little as he took a sip. “If you feel you want to wait, then that’s your decision, old fashioned or not. If Stephen can’t handle waiting then he’s not for you. Simple as that.”

“I thought you were going to bed, Amanda.”

Tony Henderson had a way of sneaking up on people. “I was about to when I thought I heard father. I’ll not keep you both in case you have business to attend to. Goodnight, father.” I kissed father on the cheek and slipped away into the hall, pausing only to see Tony close and lock the door behind him. Rushing back up to my room I laid myself on the floor and put my ear to the heating register. I used to do this to hear mom and dad talk sometimes.

Tony was talking. “She’s acting different.”

“She saw people die today. It causes one to think about life and ask a lot of questions.”

“Everything is in place. Stephen is…” The heater fan turned on and I could hear no more.

Tomorrow I’m going to find Johnny Wheatson. I need to know all about the people that want to kill me. Getting ready for bed I found a pretty pink nightgown and just about swooned as I looked at myself in the mirror. Letting my hands move over my body every touch elicited excitement but once I let my hand slip between my legs I remembered the pain of the rape and my fire was replaced with ice. Shivering at the thought that somehow I wouldn’t avoid the inevitable, I climbed into bed and only drifted off to sleep as I thought of Elizabeth’s hands stroking my face.

***

Throwing up into the burlap bag that was tightly covering my head I felt his revolting body pull away from me. I ached and I knew I was bleeding from between my legs. He had torn me wide open. Trying to move I found I had nothing left inside me. My fight was gone. I’m ruined. I just want to die. Please, God, just let me die.

“Get out, both of you. You don’t need to see this. I’ll come get you when it’s done.”

The door to the barn closed and I was hauled to my feet by strong hands. What remained of my dress was torn from my body. My knees kept buckling from the pain and I slipped from his hands and back into the bloody hay. I smell my blood now. The burlap sack was pulled from my head and I looked into a mask. The man had covered his face. He lifted me up and sat me on a stool and grabbed my left hand slapping it down on the barn workbench.

I screamed as I saw a pair of garden pruners in his other hand. I pulled and thrashed but he held me fast. I felt the cold metal slide over my little finger. Fighting with everything left in me I kicked and hit the man. The pruners pulled away only to be smashed into the side of my head. Things went black for a moment but when I opened my eyes again I saw the pruners once again over my little finger. There was a strange symbol on the man’s forearm and then I felt incredible searing pain.

I rolled out of bed and heaved into my garbage can. Feeling my left hand I found all of my fingers. Turning on the light I stood shaking from the horrible nightmare. I kept looking at my left hand and checked myself out in the mirror to make sure I wasn’t bleeding everywhere.

It took almost an hour to settle myself down even though I knew it was just a dream and yet I know it wasn’t. This is what’s going to happen and if I try to change things more people will die. I don’t care! Let other people die! Collapsing on the floor in tears I’ve never felt so trapped before. Looking around my room I saw a picture of Elizabeth and me. One look at her smile and I knew I couldn’t let her be killed so I could live. How many innocent lives will be lost if I choose to run away?

I began writing in the journal the latest dream and I drew a picture of the symbol on the man’s arm. It was like the number eight with a cross sticking out from it. Maybe Claire would know what it is?

The morning was still very young as I crept back downstairs into father’s office. There’s a safe that I knew about but I didn’t have the combination. I rummaged through his desk not finding anything of interest. Heading into the library I started looking at book titles. Again, I struck out having hoped to find something on the occult.

I know father lied about Stephen. I saw it in his eyes. He’s met Stephen more than once but the flicker of an eye is not a precise indicator of guilt or association. If anything, I believe father still has deep loving feelings towards me. The sun had risen now and I headed outside to the barn. It was a frightening place after my dreams but there was nothing amiss there. Likewise the greenhouse was in perfect condition with roses of all colors blooming everywhere. Wandering through the rose beds I was almost at peace.

“I thought I might find you here. Are you coming in for breakfast?”

“Good morning, mother. I’m not very hungry.”

“You didn’t have dinner last night and you skipped breakfast yesterday. Is something wrong? Is everything all right between you and Stephen?”

“There’s a lot going on. I honestly don’t think my relationship with Stephen is going to work out. What’s in father’s safe?”

“That’s a strange question. How did you jump from your relationship with Stephen to the safe?”

“I’m curious is all. I’ve always known he has it, but never wondered what was inside until now.”

“It’s mainly just legal papers for our house and business. What’s really going on? What’s happened between you and Stephen?”

“Nothing has happened between Stephen and me. As far as I know he’s still taking me to dinner tonight.” I had to say something. “After seeing those people die yesterday I was thinking of writing a will. It’s not like I have anything to give away so it’s probably a foolish thought, but there are things of mine I’d like to go to friends in case something happened to me.”

“You’re twenty years old and far too young to even think about those things. Come on. You need to eat something and when was the last time you took Oscar for a walk?”

***

Oscar was the family German shepherd. He was a good guard dog just because he looked imposing but deep down he was a bit of a mooch. All bark and no bite and if you scratched his ears or gave him food he’d be your friend for life. I walked along with Oscar as I enjoyed the cool first day of December’s air against my legs. I wore a red dress under my light jacket. Funny that I have jeans and pants in the closet but ever since becoming me again I wanted nothing to do with them. It was as if I was celebrating my femininity anew.

I walked downtown and passed the diner. It was all boarded up where the truck had crashed through, but it was still open. It amazed me that people just keep on going after something that tragic happens. Walking Oscar was a good excuse to think, although I wasn’t thinking much. My mind was numbingly blank and I found myself standing in front of Madam Claire’s.

“You sure look lost, Amanda.” Claire was standing in the doorway with a doggie treat as if she knew I’d be coming by.

“I had another dream last night. I just can’t put the pieces together. There was a symbol on a man’s forearm in my dream. It had an eight with a funny cross extending from it.”

“That would be the Leviathan Cross, or Satan’s Cross. It’s not an eight, but rather an infinity symbol. The cross has two perpendicular lines through it. Some believe the infinity symbol represents eternity and the cross, either a crossroads or equality.”

“Do you think all the members of the triad would have such a mark?”

“It’s doubtful. It’s much too well known and in this part of the Bible-believing world, Satanism is frowned upon. It’s not necessary for their rituals.” She tossed Oscar the treat and he wagged his tail so hard it made it difficult for me to hang onto his leash. “You should go. It’s hard to look at you.”

“Excuse me?”

“I rarely see someone that exudes such innocence and beauty and to feel this death burden around you is making me nauseous. It’s as if heaven and hell are colliding wherever you are.”

“I’m sorry. It’s not too fun dreaming every night and knowing in a week I’ll be ritualistically raped, dismembered, burned, and murdered. I won’t bother you again.”

“My apologies if I came across harsh, Amanda. I want to see this through with you if for no other reason than to be free of the darkness. Come by anytime.”

“Thank you, and thanks for the treat for Oscar.”

From Madam Claire’s I walked another mile until I came to father’s furniture mill. The place produced furniture fifteen hours a day with two shifts of workers. It was started by my great grandfather and passed to father five years ago when grandfather passed away. Most everyone knows me here even though I don’t visit it very often. Father would be here somewhere but as I walked into the mill area it was the foreman that spotted me and came over.

“Amanda. So nice to see you. What brings you around?”

“I was hoping to find Johnny Wheatson.”

His face darkened. “Not sure why anyone would want to find Johnny, especially someone like yourself.”

Making up a lie I decided I needed to give him some reason. “I have a project around the house I need help with and someone suggested Johnny.”

“He doesn’t come in until the one o’clock shift. I think he has a place in the Midpoint apartments. If you need help around the house, just ask. I’d be happy to help you out.”

“Thank you.”

Another mile took me to the Midpoint apartments. It was a seedy looking brick building and certainly not very appealing. I almost turned around when a man with wild hair stepped onto the street. Just seeing him made my heart pound and cold shivers ran down my spine. I wanted to run. Somehow I pushed my fear away. “Johnny Wheatson?”

He looked at me with much confusion. “Who wants to know?”

“I’m Amanda De Havilland. You work for my father.”

“Wow. I would have never pictured William De Havilland having such a pretty daughter. What can I do you for?”

“Are you doing any kind of side work for my father?”

He shifted nervously. “No ma’am.”

“Do you know Tony Henderson or Stephen Briarcliff?”

“I know Tony but not this Stephen fellow. What’s this all about?”

How do I even respond to this? Johnny has some minor drug infractions. I can use that. “I just overheard Tony and my father talking and they mentioned checking into your history.” Johnny blanched. “You seem like a nice person. I’d just hate to see anyone lose their job.” I obviously hit a nerve.

“Thank you for coming out of your way to tell me. I need to get going.”

“Good day, Mr. Wheatson.”

Arriving back home after a lengthy walk, Oscar promptly fell asleep and didn’t even wake up when Elizabeth arrived. Some watchdog he is.

“How are you doing, Amanda? Yesterday was pretty traumatic.”

“After you left I got a bus ticket out of town. I was on the bus that hit and killed the woman.”

“You were leaving without telling me?”

Biting my lower lip I was concerned that anything I might say could hinder our relationship. She’ll think I’m crazy if I tell her the truth. “It wasn’t my intention to leave you, Elizabeth. I’m having horrible nightmares; nightmares that I’m going to be murdered one week from today. I want to leave just in case this is a premonition, yet every time I try to leave, someone dies.”

Elizabeth’s arms felt comforting as they wrapped around me. “Nothing is going to happen to you. Let’s borrow my dad’s car and go to Florida.”

Staring into Elizabeth’s eyes I started to cry. “No. I don’t want to lose you. Madam Claire believes I’m bound to death by a satanic ritual. If I try to change my fate those I love the most will die.”

“No wonder you’re all freaked out. Madam Claire’s? Why would you go talk to those crazy people? If you’re too scared to leave, then I’ll stay with you. We’ll just have a week-long sleepover. Please don’t go back to Madam Claire’s.”

I want her with me so badly but what about Stephen? “Tomorrow. I’ll come to your place tomorrow night. Stephen’s taking me to dinner in a few hours and even though I’d rather skip it, it wouldn’t be nice of me to break a date on such short notice. Besides, I really should talk to him.” Hugging Elizabeth tightly I thanked her profusely for being my best friend.

***

My dress was a conservative blue that still flattered my body but wasn’t designed to entice. My hair was slightly curled on the ends and around my face. I wore a pearl necklace and earrings. It had taken a long time to go through my closet and pick the perfect outfit. I don’t know what to expect but I know that deep down I’m not in love with Stephen. Perhaps that would change when he stepped through the door, but then again shouldn’t I have the slightest flutter in my heart knowing he was coming?

I still don’t know for sure who the three men of the triad are. Tony Henderson was the only and most obvious choice for one of the three. He seemed cruel and harsh. Father? While it’s possible since I think he was lying about Stephen, he certainly seems to love me. Johnny Wheatson? He’s also a likely possibility and the only one I’m able to definitively place at my murder. The final person of the triad could be Stephen. I just don’t know.

Finding father in his office I knocked lightly. “Amanda? Come in. You look lovely. You’re going to dinner with Stephen?”

“I am. Do you think I’m dressed appropriately? I’m trying for a conservative yet elegant look.”

“I’d say you nailed it. Joe Marconi told me you stopped by the mill today and that you asked for Johnny Wheatson?”

“I did. I have a project in mind and I heard Johnny is a good woodworker.”

“He is a good woodworker, but he’s not someone you want to be associated with. If you tell me what your project is I can find you the right person.”

“That’s all right; it was perhaps too ambitious of me anyways. I’ve decided I don’t need the help after all.”

“Okay, but if you change your mind let me know.”

We were interrupted by the doorbell. Moving to the door I noticed my hand shaking as I went to open it. My dreams have truly rattled me. “Who is it?”

“It’s Stephen.”

It took all my courage to open the door. Stephen was a tall, athletic young man. He was a few years older than me and had the look of proper affluence. He leaned in and I turned my face so he kissed my cheek instead of my lips. He frowned but quickly moved to flattery. What did I ever see in him? He looks like a spoiled rich kid that always gets his way.

“Hello, Stephen. You should come in and meet my father again.”

Watching carefully I tried to pick up any signs of familiarity between the two. It was clear father knew Stephen more than he let on and Stephen was clearly acting nervous; acting as if he was playing a part and not doing a convincing job of it.

With the brief interlude over, Stephen showed me to his Porsche. He was trying hard to appear gallant and opened the door for me, but it was clear this wasn’t the norm for him. As I sat low in the seat I adjusted my dress to cover my legs. Stephen reminded me of guys I grew up with when I was Mark Patterson. They had everything handed to them and all they cared about were themselves. They went to the gym for endless hours to chisel their physiques and then stayed up late every night carousing and throwing away their parents hard earned money.

Pulling up to one of the few nicer restaurants in town, Stephen once again opened the door for me and extended a hand to help me out of the seat. I was grateful for his assistance as a low car and seat made getting out of the car challenging in high heels. When we were seated Stephen ordered a beer for himself and I ordered water. “It’s a shame you can’t have some wine until March.”

With another man, perhaps another life, with no nightmares of being raped, I could see myself with someone, but every time I look at Stephen I feel my panties being torn from my body and my legs being pushed open. Yet, he was trying so hard and none of those things have truly happened. Or have they? I need to give him a chance. “It’s only a few months away. Thank you for inviting me to dinner. I’m sorry if I’ve been a little disconnected.”

“I heard about the driver of the truck and how he almost hit you yesterday. It would have shaken anyone up.”

“Thank you.”

He downed his beer and ordered another. “I want you to know, Amanda, that I see a great future for us.”

I forced a smile. “What is it about me that attracts you?”

“You’re the prettiest girl in Virginia.”

“Certainly there is more to me than just my looks?”

“Of course not. You’re smart, possibly too smart.”

“Do you know what books I like to read or what movies I like to watch?”

Stephen finished his second beer and waved to the waitress for yet another. “What’s with the twenty questions tonight?”

“I’m thinking of my long-term life plans.”

The beer came and he took a big sip. “That’s what this dinner is all about, Amanda.” Getting down on one knee he opened a little black velvet box. To his credit the ring was gorgeous. People around us all stopped to stare. “Amanda De Havilland, will you marry me?”

Why belabor this? “No.”

“You’re joking. Don’t leave me hanging here, people are watching.”

“Then get up and stop making a fool of yourself, Stephen. My answer is no.”

“Is this about the books and movies? I can learn what you like.”

“Stephen, this isn’t just about that. You have no career plans and I know while you’ve been dating me you’ve been going out and being with other girls.”

“How do you know about that? Have you had people spying on me?” His third beer finished he ordered another.

“No spying. It was merely an assumption that you just confirmed.”

“Any girl would willingly take me up on my offer to marry them. Don’t throw this opportunity away!” His voice was getting louder and the people had all turned away in embarrassment for him.

“You mean the opportunity for you to have affair after affair on me bringing home untold numbers of diseases? In case you haven’t figured it out, I’m not like those other girls. I’m done, Stephen. I’ll find my own way home.”

Now he was shouting. “You’re nothing but a frigid harpy. You play me along for months hoping to get free dinners and you give out nothing! One day someone’s going to take everything from you and you’ll rue this day.”

“I already rue this day, Stephen.”

Turning I left the table and walked outside. It was dark, rain had started, and it was cold. Shivering I turned back inside and called my parents to see if they would come pick me up a few blocks away. I didn’t want any additional embarrassment of waiting at the restaurant and walking a few blocks in high heels wouldn’t be too bad.

Slipping back out into the cold wet night I was surprised at how nonchalant I was about the entire situation. I suspect Stephen more now than ever but was confused as to why he would ask me to marry him. I saw nothing in the file folder about Stephen. It was as if he didn’t even exist and yet being rejected in public would give him motive the police would have followed up on.

A dark sedan pulled up next to me and the window opened. “Get in.”

Tony looked none too pleased. “I’m waiting for father to come get me.”

“He knew I was nearby and called me. He said he didn’t want you waiting long. So get in.”

Looking up and down the street I suddenly wished for modern technology and cell phones. Opening the door I got in and put my seatbelt on.

“What’s this all about? Your father said you were leaving your date with Stephen early.”

“We had a difference of opinion. It’s over between us and I wasn’t about to put myself in his hands after he drank four beers.”

“You’ve not been yourself lately. You sure you’re making the right choices?”

“I’m seeing things more clearly than ever before.”

“Stephen’s a decent guy.”

“And how would you know?”

“Do you honestly believe I wouldn’t check into anyone that gets involved with this family? This is my job.”

Now I was angry. “Has father told you to look into my relationships?”

“Not directly, but I take what I do seriously.”

“I’m not sure where you get your information, but Stephen is a philandering, egocentric, young man. He’s only concerned about himself.”

“And you’re not concerned for yourself? You fail to see your own hypocrisy. You’re a spoiled little girl that has a cushy life and will probably never have to work a day in your life.”

“Stop the car.”

“I’m taking you directly home.”

“I said stop the car! I’ll sooner walk than be preached at by the likes of you.”

The car screeched to a halt. Getting out of the car Tony didn’t wait for me to close the door. He simply drove off and let the momentum carry the door shut. I’d let my emotions get the better of me. I should have used that opportunity to pry for more information. I started walking.

By the time I got home mother and father were anxiously waiting for me at the front door. I was cold and wet and mother got a towel and blanket for me. “Where have you been? Tony was going to pick you up.”

“He picked me up but I got angry with him and told him I’d rather walk. Did you know that he’s been spying on us? Anyone I have a relationship with, he’s digging into their background. I don’t know what his problem is, but he thinks I’m a pampered princess. We live very comfortably but I work for my tuition like everyone else.”

Dad wasn’t happy. “He’s overstepped his bounds. What happened with Stephen?”

“He proposed to me.”

“I knew he was going to.”

“What do you mean, you knew?”

“He came to me a few days ago asking for your hand in marriage. I told him that was your choice as your hand isn’t mine to give.”

“That’s why you didn’t tell me the truth when you said you only met Stephen once.”

He nodded. “I assume you said no and that’s why you’re here dripping on the floor.”

“He knows nothing about me and he admitted to being with other girls while dating me.”

“For what it’s worth, I’m glad you said no. I’ll have a word with Tony. You should get out of those wet clothes and get warmed up.”

***

Waking to sunlight streaming through my window I realized I never had a nightmare last night. They had been happening so often it was almost the expected norm for me. On one hand I was relieved, but on the other I felt I needed every piece of information if I was to avoid my own demise.

It was a cold day again so I dressed warmly and headed downstairs. Mother had breakfast ready for me but it looked like it had sat a while.

“I wanted to let you sleep, sweetheart. Stephen has called three times already. He’s very apologetic and wants to see you. Do you think you should give him a second chance?”

“Not when he was sleeping around while dating me. I made it very clear that we were done last night. I’ve no desire to speak with him.”

“You both need closure.”

“While that may be true, it doesn’t have to come today.”

“Do you have plans for the day?”

“I’ll be going to stay with Elizabeth tonight and hope she’ll come to stay while you and father are away. I don’t feel comfortable with how things left off between Stephen and Tony.”

“Certainly you don’t think they intend to harm you?”

If you only knew. “Stephen embarrassed himself in front of the entire restaurant last night. He was also drunk. Tony was just being Tony. I don’t feel comfortable around either of them right now.”

“I know your father was none too pleased with Tony last night. He had words with him already. I’m sure it will be all better today. I need to go do some shopping. Will you be all right on your own?”

“I have our mooch of a dog to watch out for me.” Oscar looked up from his pillow and lazily put his head back down.

“I’ll be back in a few hours.”

“Thanks, mother.”

After mother left I locked all the doors and headed back into father’s office. I tried the safe combination a few times but got nowhere. Most of his accessible files were about the furniture business. I could find nothing of any value.

There were many places things could be hidden in the house so I moved from room to room and spent the next hour digging through drawers and closets. I could find nothing. I was back in the kitchen having some tea when Oscar woofed and the doorbell rang. Grabbing a knife from the drawer I moved quietly towards the door. The doorbell rang again followed by pounding on the door.

“Amanda! I know you’re in there!” It was Stephen and he was really angry. He kept hitting the door and suddenly all my fears took root within me. Holding the knife I slipped to the floor and hugged my knees to my chest. Every bang sent shivers down my neck. “Amanda! Open the door! You owe me!”

Why am I just sitting here? Call the police, stupid. Getting up I lunged for the phone and dialed 911. “Police, what’s your emergency?”

“There’s a man outside my house banging and threatening.”

“What’s your address?”

“112 Maple Street. The De Havilland estate. I’m Amanda De Havilland. Please hurry.”

“I’m sending someone now. Just stay on the line.”

The pounding and screaming continued. I could hear the siren in the distance and then all was silent.

“The police should be pulling up any time now.”

“I think the man left.”

“All right. I’m hanging up now. Talk to the police and tell them what happened.”

“Thank you.”

The doorbell rang. “This is the police. Amanda De Havilland?”

I was still paranoid but I managed to peek out to the front porch and saw two police officers. I unlocked the door and threw it open. “Thank you for coming!”

“Ma’am, please put down the knife.”

“Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry.”

“It’s all right. What’s going on?”

My breathing was labored. I sat down for a moment trying to calm myself. “Stephen Briarcliff. He was my boyfriend up until last night. He proposed and I said no. He’s been calling all morning and just now was banging on the door and yelling threats.”

Tony pulled his car into the driveway and stopped in front of the house. “What are the police doing here?” The police went to draw their weapons but Tony put his hands up. “Amanda, tell them who I am.”

“That’s Tony Henderson. He works for my father. It’s not Stephen.”

The police relaxed and Tony strode forward. “What’s going on, Amanda?”

“Stephen came and was threatening. I called the police but Stephen left just before they got here.”

Tony turned to the police. “I can watch Amanda in case Stephen comes back. Perhaps you could track Stephen down?”

This was perhaps my chance to make up for my mistake last night and get more answers. I didn’t want to be left alone with Tony but mother would be back soon anyways. “Tony’s right. I’m fine here.”

“All right, Miss De Havilland. Call us if there’s any more trouble.”

After the police left Tony surprised me. “Listen, Amanda, I’m sorry for last night. I didn’t appreciate being ordered to collect you and bring you home and you certainly didn’t deserve my spiteful words. You’re not a spoiled little girl. If anything I’ve never seen anyone being brought up in such affluence not let it go to their heads and yet you’re giving and caring. You could easily walk away from all of this.”

I’m dumbfounded. Now I don’t know what to think. “Thank you. I believe I owe you an apology as well.”

“No, ma’am. I went beyond my duties and infringed upon the family’s rights. Clearly even with that I didn’t do my due diligence as I should have foreseen something like this. Had I been doing my job properly Stephen would have never been allowed on the property after last night. What’s this knife doing here?”

“I took it from the kitchen when Stephen was banging on the door.”

“I’m impressed. Don’t take this the wrong way, but I would have expected you to cower in fear.”

“I did cower in fear only that I had a knife in my hand while I did it.”

His smile took the cold edge from his face. “Do you know how to use a knife in a fight?”

“Pointy end goes away from me.”

He chuckled. “What are your career plans, Amanda? Are you going to take over the family business?”

“I figure I might have to one day, but I’ve been considering applying for the FBI. I have the right grades and classes for it.”

“The FBI is a low-paying job and there is a lot of stress with it.”

“It’s not about the money, it’s about seeing people get justice. Money doesn’t mean much to me and I’m not saying that because the family is well off. Money doesn’t create fulfillment or happiness. The FBI would pay well enough for me to live a decent life and then I’d be doing what I’m passionate about.”

Tony’s eyes flickered a moment. He’s conflicted. “The police are going to find Stephen and question him. They’ll likely not book him as technically he’s done nothing wrong. Do you want me to emphasize to Stephen that he not come around again?”

“No. I’m happy to meet with Stephen in a day or two after he settles himself out. For the life of me I can’t see why he proposed. I’m not able to bring him happiness.”

“That’s where your wrong, Amanda. You’re the key to everyone’s happiness.”

With that hanging out there like an ominous cloud, he turned and left as mother arrived.

Helping mother with the groceries I headed with her into the kitchen. “Stephen came by.”

“Did you talk things out?”

“No. He was yelling and threatening me. I called the police but Stephen left before they got here.”

“Do you really think he was going to hurt you?”

“Yes. His reaction to last night is all I need to know that he’s not the right one for me. I’m going to go pack a few things and head over to Elizabeth’s.”

Mother turned to me and hugged me tightly. “It’s been a rough week for you. The good news is that it can only get better from here.”

I knew better than to believe that. “Thanks, mother.”

***

Elizabeth rents a small, old house not too far a walk from home. Standing on the front porch I hesitated knocking. If I’m going to die in a few days, why should I get my heart entwined with Elizabeth’s? Thirty years from now, she’ll still not have a relationship and all because I’m being selfish.

“Are you just going to stand there looking pretty or are you coming in? It’s cold out.”

So lost in my thoughts I didn’t hear the door open. Elizabeth stood there with a smile and a sparkle in her eyes. Looking into her eyes I knew I couldn’t leave. I’m condemning her to a lifetime of pain. Forgive me, Elizabeth. I need you too much right now. “It’s always so good to see you, Elizabeth.” Stepping inside I hugged her tight.

She jumped onto the couch and patted the seat next to her. “So, tell me all about the big date.”

It was a snug little couch but I didn’t mind. The room was cool and I enjoyed the idea of using some of Elizabeth’s body heat. At least that’s the excuse I’m telling myself. “Stephen proposed.”

There was a flicker of annoyance and then resignation. “You’re going to be Amanda Briarcliff then.”

“I told Stephen no even though I wanted to see you dressed in a fluffy purple bridesmaid dress.”

“You’re just waiting then?”

“It’s over between us. He made a big scene and then was pounding on the door making threats this morning. I called the cops on him.”

That perked her up. “This calls for a celebration!” Elizabeth jumped up and then paused. “That is unless you’re sad about it.”

“I’m happy it’s over. He showed his true colors.”

Smiling, Elizabeth turned into the kitchen and returned with a bottle of red wine and two glasses. “I was saving this for your birthday. Grab the blanket over there. This old place never gets very warm.”

Once we were both snuggled together on the couch Elizabeth poured the wine and we lifted out glasses together. “What do we toast to, Amanda?”

“A long life and love for us both.”

Our glasses touched with a pleasant clink and I let my first sip of wine warm my throat and insides.

“Do you think it’s possible to find true love, Amanda?”

“I know we’ve both had rough patches.”

“I don’t think I could ever trust another man. After being raped and all the abusive relationships I’ve had I wonder if I’ll ever find that which I crave so much.”

Taking another big sip of wine I emboldened myself. “You know, Elizabeth, that if you were a guy, you’d be perfect for me. Look at us. We’ve never fought. We care for each other. We look out for each other. You’re so gifted, talented, and smart. I just need a magic wand to turn you into a guy.”

“There’s only one problem with that.”

“What’s the problem? I thought it was pretty much self-explanatory.”

“I don’t want to be a guy.”

Frowning I mocked disappointment. “What are we going to do then?”

“With the magic wand we could roll back time six months and turn you into a guy. But there’s yet another problem with that solution.”

The wine was getting to me. “I’m all ears.”

“The problem is you’re too beautiful and smart to turn into a guy.”

“But if I’m smart I could act all Neanderthal.”

“That just won’t do.” She took our glasses and set them on the coffee table. Her gaze was so intense.

“What other options do we have?”

Her fingers ran through my hair and lingered lightly on my cheek. I closed my eyes and leaned into her hand. That’s when I felt her lips on mine. They were so soft and moist. With my eyes closed I could feel Elizabeth’s tentativeness and gentleness. I opened my eyes as she pulled away. Fear was written all across her face. “I’m so sorry, Amanda.” I know I love her. “Say something… Please…”

“Why have you waited so long?” Stroking her silky soft cheek with my fingertips I slid my hand behind her neck and leaned in and kissed her. The fire that burned within me was immense, but I can’t go beyond kissing right now. Not with my death looming. Not with everything happening. I felt her relax and her lips curl into a smile. “You’re so beautiful, Elizabeth.”

“I feel like I just broke ever taboo and every law and yet I’ve never felt anything more wonderful than your lips. I want nothing else than to rush headlong into something that is irrevocably foolish, but we have all the time in the world.” The spark in her eyes was even more intense than before. Handing me my glass she toasted. “To hell with guys. To us!”

She kissed me again and it felt so right. I entwined my fingers with hers as we snuggled together and chatted the rest of the evening. When we finally decided to go to bed I changed into my black nightgown and slipped into bed next to Elizabeth.

“Why do you have to be so bloody gorgeous, Amanda? You’re a temptation.”

“We’ve slept in the same bed before.”

“That was then, this is now.”

“We can put pillows in between us, or I could go sleep on the couch. I could tell you I’m a closet nun.”

“You’ve never had sex have you?”

“I’m a woman of the world, Elizabeth. I was spawned in the 1960’s.”

“You’re a virgin.”

“I wanted to wait until I married.”

We were facing each other in bed and her hand caressed my hair. “You’re incredible, Amanda.”

“If I roll over, will you hold me?”

“I’d like that.”

***

Everything is dark and the pain excruciating. I’ve been beaten and raped and now my hand throbs where my two fingers have been brutally cut from my body. I try opening my eyes but they are so swollen I can barely open them. Screaming as I see my two fingers on the bloodied work bench my face is grabbed roughly. The man in the mask holds me firmly. There is a knife in his other hand. Slowly the sharp tip presses into my forehead. Struggling and kicking I feel the blade cut slowly through my skin. Sweat and blood drip into my eyes.

Hopelessness is all I feel. The pain that ravages my body is nothing compared to the feeling that I’ve lost all hope. The knife digs deep again and I slip into darkness only to feel a tug on my ankle. I’m being dragged again. The pulling stops and I curled myself into a tight ball on my side. The smell of gasoline assaults my senses but I can no longer move. When I think I can feel no more pain, I hear a whooshing sound and searing fire crawls along my body as my skin boils and peels. I scream some unearthly sound.

“Amanda! Amanda!”

There are hands on me! I thrashed.

“Amanda, it’s me! Elizabeth. Wake up!”

Slowly the pain subsides and I feel gentle touches and light kisses. It’s so real. Just let me die! “Let me die…” I’m being shaken now.

“Amanda!” Her hands are stroking my face. I hear weeping. “Amanda, wake up.”

Forcing my eyes open it took a moment to realize I was in Elizabeth’s bedroom. “Elizabeth?” My throat burned.

“Amanda? Are you all right? You had a bad dream. You frightened me.”

I was still shaking even with Elizabeth’s arms around me. “These nightmares are so vivid.”

“The same nightmare?”

“Lately they’ve been progressive as if I get a small piece of what’s going to happen. I feel every bit of pain, smell every detail, and after I wake the dreams stick with me.”

Elizabeth still held onto me but reached over to a nightstand and opened a drawer. She pulled out a handgun. “I’m staying by your side and I’ll not let anything happen to you.”

“Where did you get a gun?”

“My father gave it to me. We used to go to the shooting range.”

“I’m worried that you’re going to get hurt or killed.”

“These are just dreams, Amanda.”

“They’re more than dreams.”

“You say this is all supposed to happen in a few days?”

“The night of December seventh and into the eighth.”

“You’re my girl, Amanda. I’m going to stay by your side until this is all over. The only way someone is going to get to you is through my dead body.”

That’s what I’m afraid of. With Elizabeth holding me I finally felt like I didn’t have to go through this alone. My bravado was gone. I’ve seen my death and felt every bit of torture, pain, and fear. To know Elizabeth was there to protect me made me feel so much better.

We spent the morning making breakfast and snuggling together. I couldn’t recall a recent time that I felt so free to be me, even with this whole thing looming over me. The little light touches and random kisses from Elizabeth felt like a guilty pleasure. It was almost as if I knew it was forbidden and that made it all the more exciting.

We decided to spend the next few nights at my house. If there was anything to be discovered, it would be at my house and I withheld my fears that by not being home I would set into motion another person’s death. I didn’t want to see another death on my account.

I’d been thinking a lot about time. What happens if I stop my murder? Do I not get born as Mark and do I lose everything I know about that life? Will this life vanish and I’ll suddenly be Mark again thirty years from now taking on a different cold case? I can’t worry about what might happen. I have to live my life right now in this moment.

We walked arm in arm through town and to my house. Elizabeth had a bag for her clothes and things and her gun was hidden inside as well. There’s a look in her eyes of fierce determination that both scares me and makes me feel all warm and comforted. The Mark that I once was, or perhaps will be, is gone in many ways. I remember that life vividly, but I am acting very much like the frightened girl that I really am. Over the past few hours there were no more than a few minutes that I hadn’t held onto or touched Elizabeth in some way or another. Her presence made me feel secure but there was more to it than that. I’m in love.

Happily, Elizabeth seemed more than eager to reciprocate my feelings and even though we’ve not spoken openly about our feelings, I knew we were following a path that would lead to something substantial.

Upon arriving at the house Oscar ran out to greet us. He kept sniffing Elizabeth’s bag hoping to find a snack. He’s such a mooch. Mother came out to the porch and gave us both a hug. She always liked Elizabeth.

“Looks like you’re planning on staying a couple of days, Elizabeth. Should I set an extra plate for dinner tonight?”

“If it is no bother. I can take care of myself. With you and William leaving Amanda for your trip I thought we’d have an extended sleep over.”

“You know you’re always welcome here. You’re a good influence on our Amanda.”

“Just as she is a good influence on me.”

Grabbing Elizabeth’s hand, an action that didn’t go unnoticed by mother, I led her upstairs to my room and closed the door. “Why do I get the feeling your mother knows more than she lets on, Amanda?”

“She’s always hidden in the recesses but she’s very astute. I wouldn’t doubt that she secretly directs father’s business from behind the scenes.”

Plopping ourselves on my bed Elizabeth leaned into me. Her fingers traced my cheek and slipped into my hair. “A girl could easily fall for you, Amanda. There’s just something about you that exudes warmth and innocence. You’re incredibly smart, and fun, and let’s not forget how beautiful you are.”

Reaching for her hand I held it up against my cheek as I closed my eyes in complete contentment. I felt her warm moist lips brush mine. My lips parted of their own volition and I tasted Elizabeth’s sweet tongue. A soft moan escaped my lips as my body flushed with heat.

“Does Stephen know that you rejected him because you’re having an affair with another woman?”

My eyes shot open and Elizabeth hurriedly pulled away. I saw her hand reach for her bag but I grabbed it and held it down against my thigh. “Does a closed door mean nothing to you, Tony?” I was furious and scared.

“I didn’t know you were home. I was simply making my rounds checking on things.”

“Next time knock first and please don’t say anything to anyone.”

He glanced at Elizabeth. “Elizabeth is pretty but I didn’t think you were gay. Were you both a thing when you broke up with Stephen?”

“You’ve known me most of my life, Tony. I don’t flirt, I don’t carouse, and I don’t cheat. Stephen is an ass and perhaps he’s a catalyst for this, but this is my life and mine alone to choose my own way.”

“You vouched for me when the police were here even after I was a jerk the night before. It’s your life and up to you when and with whom you want to share things. I’ll keep quiet.”

He turned and closed the door behind him. “And knock next time!”

Turning to Elizabeth I hadn’t realized my hand was still squeezing hers against my thigh. “I don’t care if people know about us. There is something soothing about your touch. I feel stronger with you near me.”

“Tony gives me the creeps, Amanda. Have you ever noticed he looks a little like your father?”

“I never really took notice. I avoid Tony whenever possible.”

“He has a way of spoiling the mood, doesn’t he?”

“He’s like a black cloud on a sunny day. He thinks I’m a spoiled rich girl and seems to resent that I have a family and a nice home.”

“I saw you work to pay for your car and tuition. Just because you live in a nice home doesn’t make you rich.”

“The truth is I should be on my own by now. I should have my own place and be making my own way.”

“You could move in with me.”

Lacing my fingers with Elizabeth’s I leaned over and kissed her. “I’d like that, but not until this is all over.”

“It’s all right if you’re not ready. I understand. Perhaps I’m being too hopeful or maybe I’m rushing things?”

“If I didn’t think that you’d be at risk, I’d move in today. We need to see this through. Hopefully, everything is nothing more than bad dreams.” I need to change the subject and get moving. Staying here with Elizabeth in my bed is too tempting right now. “Come on. Let’s go for a walk around the property.”

Elizabeth moved her clothing from her bag but I could see the heavy outline of the handgun inside as she put the bag strap over her shoulder. Seeing where I was looking Elizabeth tried to put my mind at ease. “I’m keeping it and you with me at all times.”

***

The next morning I woke refreshed with Elizabeth’s body snuggled up tightly to mine. I had no bad dreams and that almost made me wonder if perhaps I was manufacturing the entire thing. My life as Mark kept drifting further and further away to the point I began thinking that life was a dream and yet deep down I know I lived thirty years as Mark Patterson. The more time I spent as Amanda the more I felt at home.

Turning over I came face to face with Elizabeth. She murmured a little but pulled me closer. Staring into her resting face she seemed so at peace. It was as if she was happy for the first time in her life. Her eyes fluttered open and the smile that spread across her face was infectious.

“God, Amanda. You’re so beautiful. How I manage to keep my hands to myself is beyond me.”

Her hand was on my butt so I snickered at that. “You are taking some liberties and yet I’m not upset.”

She rolled me onto my back with her on top of me. “Do you know I’ve never been with a woman before?”

“You know I’ve not been with anyone before. Are you worried you won’t like it?”

“You’ve ruined me, Amanda. I haven’t really touched your body yet, and I know I’m ruined for life. Who else, man or woman could compare to you?”

I had flashbacks to when I met Elizabeth thirty years from now. “Promise me that if anything happens to me that you’ll move on.”

“I’m not sure I could.” She rolled off of me leaving me cold and bereft. Taking that as a cue, I slipped out of bed and looked vacantly out the window. I felt her behind me. I could sense her warmth. There was a small jingle of metal and I felt something being put around my neck. Reaching up I felt a ring dangling between my breasts. Elizabeth’s arms wrapped around me and her lips brushed my neck. “I’m not sure I could move on because I’ve already given you my heart. No person has moved me like you, Amanda. This ring represents my love for you. I bought it on a whim months ago and watching you with Stephen tore at me. You’ve always been there for me and we’ve always been closer than friends, but sometime ago I fell in love with you.”

My fingers traced the smooth gold metal of the ring. My heart was fluttering in my chest. For the briefest of moments I wasn’t selfish and considered ending this right now for fear of Elizabeth’s shattered heart as she would look upon my dead body in a few days. Turning fully into her arms my tears fell freely. “How could I have missed you all these years? I knew our lives were entwined but never so much as I realize now. I love you, Elizabeth.”

Our lips sought each other’s as if our lives depended upon it. My arms wrapped around Elizabeth’s neck and for a fragment in time I felt freedom from all my fears but then the reality of my situation hit me like a slap to my face. I pulled back slowly as my tears of joy became tears of fear and loss. My body shook. “It’s not fair!”

“Amanda, what’s not fair? What aren’t you telling me?”

Moving to my desk I pulled out the journal I was writing and stroked the leather surface with my fingers. “You’re going to think I’m crazy but I need to share this with you. Even though you say you love me and I know I love you, it’s not right that you don’t understand why I’m so frightened. I started writing this on Monday. This is my first entry.” Handing the journal to Elizabeth I watched as her eyes went wide. She read the first sentences out loud.

“Monday, November 30, 1987. I, Amanda De Havilland, am writing this journal in hopes that someone might find it in the future and after I am murdered. To whoever finds this journal, please go to Elizabeth Watson and tell her that I loved her with my whole heart and that she needs to move on with her life. Aside from wishing that my murder never takes place, this is the only thing I want; that Elizabeth is free to live her life.”

Tears began falling from Elizabeth’s eyes. “You wrote this on Monday! Before breaking up with Stephen and before I kissed you, you wrote that you loved me.”

“When I met you Monday I knew that which had been simmering in me ever since I first saw you was love but I never knew for sure if society or you would allow it. In many ways, I think I was searching for my soul mate that was always right in front of me.”

Elizabeth’s eyes softened but as she glanced back at the journal she became upset. “Why are you writing like your murder is inevitable?”

“Don’t ask me how I know these things as I’m not sure I understand everything myself. Whether these are mere dreams or precognition, I want every chance to live my life without any of these horrible things happening to me. I’ve seen my death over and over again. I know where they’ll bury my body, where I’m raped, and some of the people involved. Read the journal. I’ve put every bit of detail I can remember from my dreams and from the conversations I’ve had since Monday.”

Elizabeth took her time and read through the journal. “These are so vivid. Now I understand why you wanted to run away and why you don’t think you can anymore. Why do you think this is happening?”

“I think I’m being given a chance to alter my fate. Maybe December eighth will come a go like any normal day, but I don’t think so. I’m sorry I’ve pulled you into all of this. I’m sorry I was so selfish to speak of my love for you and respond to your kiss knowing that…”

She silenced me with a kiss. “It takes love and courage to expose your biggest fears. If something happened to you knowing I should have been here for you and I wasn’t, I’d never be able to move on. Like you I’ve been searching for my soul mate. I can’t tell you how difficult, frightening, and horrible I feel right now knowing I’ve finally found you and to think you may be taken from me. We can leave together.”

“We can’t risk it. Twice I’ve tried to leave and twice people have died. If we try again, who knows who might die? I can’t live with the guilt that it might by mother or father, or worse, you.”

I felt such deep sorrow as her eyes stared into mine. Turning back to my journal she flipped through the pages. “Claire said the triad must die before you. We need to confirm who the three are.”

“Elizabeth, we’re not murderers. I’ll fight to protect myself, but without proof, I can’t take someone’s life.”

“So we just wait for this all to happen?”

I tried to offer a solid smile but I know it was rather weak. “I’ve been thinking about this a lot. The more we know about who, what, and why the better. We can think through various options and potentially place weapons where we might need them. We can also barricade ourselves in my room if necessary.”

“What are you thinking when you say you want to know more?”

“I believe Claire when she spoke about the three reasons the triad would want to kill me and yet I can’t assign the motivations to people around me. Stephen is perhaps an obvious choice in that he was so upset I wouldn’t have sex with him and since he gallivants around with other women I could see how he would want sexual prowess. I sort of owe him some closure. We could meet with him and try to see if he’s involved.”

“All right. We’ll start with Stephen. Call him and set up a meeting but I’m coming with you.”

Stephen’s voice was laced with anger but he said we could meet at a coffee shop in town this afternoon. Needing some fresh air I took Elizabeth’s arm in mine and walked down the stairs and outside towards the greenhouse. The greenhouse air was filled with pungent scents of roses and the warm humidity was a wonderful reprieve from the cold air outside.

As we wandered through the brick pathways I paused to look into Elizabeth’s eyes. “If I get through this, do you think we have a good chance together?”

“You keep saying the word if. I’m not going to let anything happen to you. You’re stuck with me and screw society. If we have to find a little cabin hidden in the woods to be together, then that’s what we’ll do. We could always move to France. I hear things are more open there.”

Picking a perfect red rose I gave it to Elizabeth as we sat down on a stone bench. My hand found hers as we both sat in silence, lost in our own thoughts.

***

When Stephen arrived at the coffee shop I almost got up and left but Elizabeth’s hand on my thigh kept me from standing. She leaned over and reminded me why we were here. Stephen glared at Elizabeth and then at me as he sat in the booth opposite us.

“You never said you’d be bringing someone. This is about you and me.”

“After the scene in the restaurant and you making threats at my front door you really expect me to come alone?”

Elizabeth’s fingers traced the hem of my dress under the table. Her touch made this bearable.

“What do you want me to say? You drive me crazy. I spent hours at the police station because you called the cops.”

“You brought that on yourself. What did you expect? That I’d fling the door open and let you ravage me on the hallway floor? You ruined what we had by not being loyal to me. How many girls did you sleep with while you were dating me?”

“Don’t make this all about me. You’ve been staying with this slut for the past few days. How long have you been sleeping with her? Is she the reason you threw away our relationship?”

“Don’t you ever talk about Elizabeth like that! She’s a better person than you’ll ever be. Perhaps if you weren’t such a philandering self-centered boy we’d still be together, but I can see clearly now just the kind of child you are. Did you think that by marrying me I’d fall into your bed willingly; that I’d spread my legs for you out of the sheer ecstasy of knowing I would be your wife? Or maybe you wanted access to my family’s money? Once we were married would you just hang out with your friends all day long and have affair after affair?”

Stephen’s face became red and flushed. I suspected he’d been drinking before he arrived at the coffee shop. He glared at Elizabeth then turned back to me. “I’ll forgive you for throwing away what we had.” He pulled out the ring again. “Come back to me. Marry me.”

“Don’t make a fool of yourself twice, Stephen. I’ve seen you for who you really are and what I’ve seen is severely lacking. I’ve happily moved on and suggest you look for your next conquest elsewhere.”

People were once again looking as he dropped his head and shoved himself up and out of the booth. Thinking it was all over I let out a sigh of relief when he turned back with venom in his eyes. “Amanda De Havilland, I will have you one way or another. No one walks away from me!”

Elizabeth, who’d remained passive, stood quickly. A dinner knife was squeezed tightly in her hand hidden slightly behind her skirt. “That’s because anyone with any sense would run from you, Stephen. Don’t ever call on Amanda again.”

“Why you…” His arm moved back as if he was about to strike Elizabeth when suddenly a hand grabbed his wrist holding it firm. Tony Henderson stepped between Stephen and Elizabeth.

“Get out of here, Stephen. Now!”

With a final glare back at me Stephen scampered out of the coffee shop.

“Thank you, Tony.”

Elizabeth slipped back down as people turned back to their coffee.

“I assume you both had some closure?”

“You could say that.”

“Good. Then I’ll leave you two be.”

When Tony had left the shop I grabbed Elizabeth’s hands in mine and carefully extracted the knife. Her eyes were so intense and filled with anger. I’ve never wanted anyone so badly in my entire life, or lives. Leaning close to her ear I felt her body relax at my nearness. I whispered softly to her. “Take me home my beloved protector.”

***

We had finally got ready for bed and I closed the door to my room and placed a chair under the handle. After our walk home and dinner we both slowly settled down. Elizabeth had been furious and hearing the threats made by Stephen elevated her concerns over my well-being. I think she’s finally seeing the reality of the situation. She’d been pensive and slightly withdrawn since the coffee shop.

Elizabeth was staring at me. Her bottom lip was quivering slightly. She looks so vulnerable right now. In the back of my mind I kept thinking about the future. I’ve already changed things. There’s no way that Elizabeth wouldn’t have confided in me about the triad and about Stephen. Did that mean I can alter the future without affecting my life as Mark or does it mean that because I still remember my life as Mark that I still die and am reborn? I’ve made up my mind.

Crossing the floor I took Elizabeth’s hand and led her to my bed. “I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I know I’ll regret not making love to you just once.” The softness of her cheek felt like a satin as my fingers grazed her skin. I felt her warm hands reach for mine as she held it gently against her face. Her eyes were riveted on mine as her lips pressed lightly against the underside of my wrist. Another kiss further down my arm sent shivers down my spine.

Is it me or is this body far more sensitive than my old one? Her warm hands cupped my face as she kissed me. My lips parted slightly as her tongue danced lightly across them. Tipping my head to the side as her lips made their way along my cheek to my ear I offered a soft moan. A gentle nibble on my earlobe and kisses down my neck caused my breath to catch.

I wasn’t completely passive, but Elizabeth was taking the lead and I was certain every touch would cause me to cry out in loving desire. I felt the string of my nightgown slide effortlessly over my shoulder as she kissed and gently nipped my skin with her teeth. My nipples hardened as the sheer fabric of my nightgown slipped over top of them and as her fingers grazed my breast our urgency and passion increased.

Slowly I felt myself being pushed back onto the bed with Elizabeth stretching out on top of me. Never in my life had I been so moved or felt so loved. Every touch was a gentle caress and every kiss an arousing flame that pushed back my fears. Elizabeth’s soft murmurings of her love for me mingled with my own for her and by the time she finally touched my womanhood I was deliriously lost.

***

Gradually I became aware of my surroundings. As I stirred I felt Elizabeth’s arms tighten ever so slightly. I could hear the gentle beating of her heart as my head lay on her chest. The slight smell of our love making lingered in the air. I never realized anything could feel so wonderful, sensual, and loving as our lovemaking was last night. I recalled my experiences as Mark Patterson and they were nothing close to what I had just experienced. Feeling slightly guilty I decided there was nothing I wanted more than to spend the rest of my life with Elizabeth and would be happy to lose my memories of Mark altogether.

It is suggested that in relationships where two women are lovers, that one almost always becomes more dominant, taking on a sort of masculine role even if both women are feminine. Last night, even though we’d taken turns, it was clear Elizabeth has taken on the role of protector and lead in our relationship. This thrilled me as it allowed me to let go of everything that I had learned as a man. I was beyond content to lie in Elizabeth’s arms. The feeling of loving protection warmed my heart. I could stay like this forever and yet for all the distraction and the momentary reduction of fear, I knew I had to face the reality of my situation.

Feeling lips pressing against my head I looked up into Elizabeth’s smiling face. “Good morning, my love.”

“You were incredible last night, Amanda. I’ve never been with a woman before but I’ve certainly dreamed about it with you. However my dreams could never do justice to the incredibly gentle, loving way we were together. I know now that I’ve never loved anyone as much as I do you. I won’t let anything happen to you.”

“I’m so glad you’re here. It makes me think that there might be hope and I feel safe with you.”

“What’s on the agenda for the day?”

“Mother always goes shopping on Saturdays and Father is typically busy with work. We should have the house mostly to ourselves. I’d like to go back through father’s office and see if we can get into the safe.”

“Maybe we can also squeeze in a little fun then?”

Snuggling further into Elizabeth’s arms all I could do is smile.

***

It was early afternoon when we finally decided we needed a break. The sun had returned and with it a short burst of rare December warmth. Our scavenging for information was mostly unsuccessful so Elizabeth took me for a walk outside.

“Why are you looking at me like that, Elizabeth?”

“I’m contemplating what you would look like in a bikini, in a wedding dress with your hair all done up, imagining a mountain cabin where all we had was a feather bed, and wondering if you’re ticklish.”

Smiling at the references I put on a matter of fact face. “I’m not ticklish.”

“Everyone is ticklish somewhere.”

“Not me.”

“I don’t believe it.” Her finger reached out to poke my side and I danced away laughing. Elizabeth decided now was a perfect time to discover my ticklish spots so she ran after me. For a few glorious moments I was me, free to indulge in any whim; the foreboding future forgotten as I ran giggling away from Elizabeth but letting her get close enough to touch me over and over again.

A piercing scream froze us in our tracks.

“What was that, Amanda?”

“It sounded like it came from the barn.”

I wanted to run away or to hide in my room but my feet were already moving towards the barn. Creeping up to the side window we peeked inside. The window was dirty and our view obscured, but there were three men. One wore a hoodie and mask, the other was clearly Tony. The third was Johnny.

“…were supposed to never come here… going to get rid of the…” We could barely make out Tony’s words with Johnny whimpering.

“…Amanda… I came to warn…”

The hooded man grabbed Johnny from behind and Tony held his hand firmly down on the workbench. He was so quick that Elizabeth and I couldn’t intervene. Blood splattered against the window and Johnny’s scream sent chills down my back. Tony let him go and Johnny reached for his left hand, now covered in blood. Starting to gag I felt Elizabeth’s hand on my back and she grabbed me and rushed me back to the house.

We went straight to my room and Elizabeth pushed the chair under the door handle before wrapping me in her arms. My breathing was shaky and my legs gave way as darkness enfolded me.

“Amanda! Amanda.”

Warm soft hands caressed my face. Opening my eyes I saw Elizabeth leaning over me. Johnny’s scream and his bloody hand lingered heavily in my mind as I grabbed for my trash can and heaved. I know what that feels like to have your fingers cut off. Staring at my left hand I turned to see Elizabeth hovering close with a tissue for me to wipe my face. Sitting down next to me she wrapped her arms around my shoulders.

“Are you better now?” All I could do was nod. “Tony cut off Johnny’s fingers. Why would he do that? We should call the police, Amanda.” The roar of a car’s engine starting sounded. Elizabeth got up and looked out the window. “That’s Tony’s car. It’s leaving the property. I can’t see who is in it.”

Elizabeth was looking at me expecting me to do something. Everyone in the future said that Johnny cut his hand on a band saw. Witnesses said he blamed my father as he ran out of the furniture mill. “All right, let’s call the police.”

***

Two hours later I was clinging to Elizabeth’s arm as we stood with the police in the barn. Everything had been cleaned up and there was no evidence anything had occurred.

“Miss De Havilland, there’s no evidence of foul play here. I know what you think you saw, but we were called earlier to the furniture plant about an accident. We just finished speaking with Tony Henderson twenty minutes ago and he said that Johnny had cut off his fingers on the machinery there. He rushed Tony to the hospital but Tony demanded that he not go. Tony said he brought him here to at least try to dress the wound. I’m sure that’s what you saw. We have eye witnesses that said Johnny was blaming your father. I’m sure you just misinterpreted everything.”

“We know what we saw, sir.”

“We’ll confirm everything when we catch up with Johnny.”

We walked back towards the house as the police left. I steered us toward the greenhouse. I needed something uplifting and the greenhouse was always warm and inviting. Sitting down on the stone bench I pulled Elizabeth down next to me. “Maybe the whole triad thing is wrong, Elizabeth. Maybe Johnny and Tony are involved in something bad and Johnny is the only one involved in retaliation for what happened to him. What if my dreams aren’t accurate and there is only one person?”

Elizabeth was clearly shaken. She had just witnessed yet another evidence of something bad going to happen to me. “I read your journal and Johnny was the only one you could identify in your dreams. The fact that he was missing fingers clearly is some kind of premonition. We’ve found no link, no information to who the members of the triad could be. But we saw what we saw. Tony cut Johnny’s fingers off. That wasn’t an accident. If the triad isn’t real, and we must consider the source being the crazy fortune teller, then we can leave. Let’s pack our things and get out of town.”

“But what about the man in the truck and the woman that got hit by the bus?”

“Coincidence. Come on, we’re going.”

Elizabeth stood and turned toward me.

Crack!

It was as if everything was moving in slow motion. I looked up to see a large glass pane directly over Elizabeth’s head shatter and fall. A huge piece of glass that resembled an arrowhead started falling straight for her. Diving, I tackled Elizabeth throwing us both into the sharp roses just as the glass shattered heavily on the bricks at our feet.

“My God, Amanda. You saved my life!”

“Coincidence or not, I’ll not see you killed. We must stay. I can’t risk your life if there truly is some kind of satanic ritual binding me.”

“As much as I hate to agree with you, that was too close for comfort. We prepare for all eventualities. We stand and fight.”

***

I’m there but I’m not as I watch Elizabeth in the kitchen making some tea. I feel secure around her. Everything will work out. She pulls some stray blonde hairs behind her ear as she stares contemplatively at the two tea cups on the counter before her.

A shadow appears out of the corner of my eye. Turn! Turn around, Elizabeth! I try to scream but no sound comes out of my mouth. A large man wearing a mask slips silently behind Elizabeth and puts a hand with a cloth over her mouth and nose. Elizabeth thrashes and fights but in moments slumps in his grasp.

No! This can’t be happening!

The man pulls a knife and plunges it into her side. Blood drips onto the linoleum floor as he drags Elizabeth through the back door of the kitchen and into the darkness.

Waking suddenly I reach for Elizabeth. My dream had shaken me so much that I found my hands touching her side and making sure she was fine.

“Mmmmm. You must be frisky this morning, Amanda.”

Finding nothing wrong with Elizabeth I wrapped myself around her and kiss her. “I thought I lost you. I had another dream and you were stabbed. You should leave. You should get far away from this place. You should get far away from me.” The last sentence was barely a whisper as I began choking on my tears.

“Hush, Amanda. Even if your dreams are truly premonition of events to come I’ll not leave you. I’m not going to run away and let you to be raped and murdered even if that means I’m putting my own life at risk. We’re in this together.”

“It was so real.”

“I think it’s time we take control of this situation. We have all the details from your dreams. If we can’t leave then perhaps we can keep others here. Let’s talk to your parents and convince them to stay another day. We can also confront your father about what we saw yesterday with Tony and Johnny.”

I started to get up when Elizabeth pulled me back to bed. Her lips pressed against mine and she held me close. “When this is all done, Amanda, we’re going to get out of here for a while. I should be treating you like my precious lover and yet it’s so difficult to think beyond our current circumstances.”

“You don’t know how comforting it is to have you by my side. I still worry for your safety but I’m not sure I could do this alone. Thank you for being here.”

***

We’d been careful to not expose our relationship. Tony knew because he caught us kissing, but this morning I didn’t care any longer. I held Elizabeth’s hand as we descended the stairs and headed into the kitchen. I think this made Elizabeth feel more connected to me and I know it made me feel better.

“Mother? Father?” I wasn’t expecting father to be around but mother was always close by. With no response I frantically ran from room to room looking for them.

“Amanda. I found a note from your mother. It says they headed to the cabin a day early. On a good note, we have the place to ourselves and they left the fridge fully stocked.”

“This is so frustrating. It’s as if every turn I make is being blocked. I feel like a buffalo being herded towards a cliff.”

I felt her hands on my arms as she pulled me into a warm embrace. “Tonight we’re having a date. You can be in your finest dress and I’ll cook dinner for you.”

Suddenly it all made sense to me. Not my pending murder but Elizabeth’s focus on making the best of a bad situation. If I knew I only had twenty-four hours left with the one I love I’d be doing everything possible to spend quality time with them. “We cook together and I’ll set the table.”

“That’s the spirit! What do you say we walk into town and pick up a few things?”

***

The man at the checkout looked at us a little strange as we pulled items out of our basket. Shotgun shells, .45 rounds, a hunting knife, a cake mix, and some icing sugar. I just smiled and tipped my head slightly letting my brunette hair drop over one eye. I’m sure I could have bought wine too as he silently bagged the items.

“He was smitten.”

“Hardly.”

“You just don’t know how gorgeous you are, Amanda. It’s an endearing quality that your beauty doesn’t go to your head. You could be an actress or a model.”

“Why be an actress when I get to live my own horror story?” Taking Elizabeth’s arm in mine as we walked I leaned into her. “Besides, I don’t need people staring at me. I’ve got you and that’s all I care about.”

We continued to walk along in silence, both of us lost in our own thoughts.

***

Dinner, while fabulous, was still a bit of a solemn affair. I dressed in my most beautiful dress, had done up my hair, and we set a cozy fire in the fireplace. We turned on soft romantic music, lit candles, and for all the romance nothing seemed to diminish the growing apprehension we both felt. It was all we could do to cuddle together and hold each other’s hands. Tomorrow night was when everything was supposed to take place and we both dealt with it in different ways. I was content to savor every second with Elizabeth and yet she appeared to be bracing herself and thinking through options. That night as I lie in Elizabeth’s arms, I prayed for the first time in a very long time. I prayed for this all to pass by me. I prayed for Elizabeth’s safety and if I were to die that she would be able to move on.

***

The next day began with heavy overcast skies and a cold dampness that sank into my very bones. The oppressive skies mimicked my feelings inside. Elizabeth stirred next to me and I clung to her tightly. I regret not making love to her last night but neither of us could remove the burden of our thoughts.

Once we decided to finally get out of bed I found myself oddly disconnected. My mind was yelling at me but my heart yearned for normalcy. My heart won and I decided to shower and make myself presentable, putting on a dress and making sure my hair was nicely styled. I think, perhaps, I was at odds about the reality of the situation but I also wanted to look nice for Elizabeth.

By the time I came downstairs Elizabeth had breakfast made. “You look adorable, Amanda. Did you sleep at all last night?”

“Not much. Am I crazy? Have I completely lost it?”

Elizabeth’s eyes darkened. “I had a dream last night. All I can remember was that I heard you scream and try as I might, I couldn’t get to you. I figure we must be prepared for anything. I created this list while you were showering.”

Glancing at the list I was surprised at the extent of it. Slowly my mind took back over and my disconnectedness faded. Looking down at the white dress with pink flowers I had put on caused me to almost heave. Somehow in a dazed stupor I had fallen into a rhythm that set my steps in motion towards my ultimate demise. “I need to change. I hope you don’t mind me wearing pants today.”

Taking Elizabeth’s hand in mine and the list we rushed upstairs. Tossing my dress on the bed I slipped into a pair of jeans and a blouse then looked at the first item on the sheet. “Where do you think your gun should be?”

“I’ll carry it with me for now but later we will put it in your room. It’s already loaded. Grab the hunting knife. We’re heading out to the barn.”

A feeling of dread washed over me but I was strengthened by Elizabeth’s warm arms. Grabbing a jacket we headed outside through the mist and damp leaves to the barn. We stood together at the entrance in silence looking inside. With a shaking hand I pointed to the pile of hay. “There.”

Elizabeth pried the long hunting knife from my hand, laid herself back on the hay and buried the knife under it. “Just remember where it is.”

My nerves and stomach twisted violently at seeing Elizabeth lying on the hay. I rushed outside and threw up my breakfast. Elizabeth’s hands rested on my back as I stood up. Her eyes betrayed her outward strength as she pushed my hair away from my face. “Don’t give up on me! You’re stronger than you think. Fight with every ounce of strength you have. I know this is hard but there is only one guarantee.”

“What’s that?”

“If you give up, if you lose hope, you’re dead… and so am I.”

My hand went to the necklace and I thought about all my years of training for the FBI as Mark. I’m stronger than I was before and this time I have Elizabeth. “I won’t give up. I won’t let you down.”

“That’s what I need to hear. Let’s go load the shotgun.”

After heading into my father’s office Elizabeth fiddled with the shotgun until I took it from her hands. Her nerves were getting to her but mine had settled slightly. Elizabeth watched as I loaded ten rounds into the pump-action shotgun.

“You’re holding out on me, Amanda.”

“I’ve been watching videos. The other day I asked father to teach me how to shoot.” I almost said YouTube. “Where should we put it?”

“Let’s prop it up by the front door.”

“What about the police? Do you think we should call them?”

“If your dreams are correct then it will be late at night when Johnny comes to the door. If we call now it will be like Chicken Little, especially since you’ve called twice now this week already. When he arrives we’ll call then.”

“Let’s finish up with the list.”

***

It was 6:30pm and darkness had already descended upon Lynchburg like a heavy blanket. Neither of us had been hungry for lunch or dinner and we sat together in silence in the living room.

“I’m going to let Oscar out to do his business, Elizabeth. Would you like anything?”

“No thanks.”

Crossing the house I found Oscar lying in the clothes hamper. He looked up at me with his moochy eyes and his tail flopped heavily. “You ready to go outside?” Oscar yawned, stood up slowly, and waited for me to open the door. My hand stretched out and shook as I reached for the door knob. Get ahold of yourself Amanda. Nothing is supposed to happen until much later. Clasping the cold knob I opened the door and Oscar leapt outside and uncharacteristically bolted straight into the forest. A gust of cold damp air blew against me sending shivers down my spine. “Oscar! Get back here! Oscar! Oscar!” Nothing. Not a sound. The silence of the forest and the house pressed in on me. Turning away from the door I looked back towards the living room. Elizabeth!

Slamming the door closed I locked it and ran through the house. “Elizabeth! Elizabeth!” The living room was empty. “No! Elizabeth!” My heart was pounding. The kitchen. “Elizabeth!” No response. Tears were falling from my eyes as I slowly moved into the kitchen. On the counter two cups of steaming tea sat on the counter. On the floor several drops of blood. “No! Elizabeth!”

Thump, thump, thump!

I jumped at the sound. Turning frantically towards the the front door I looked at the shotgun. That was so stupid! Why did we put it right next to the front door?

Thump, thump, thump! “Amanda!”

Reaching for the phone I quickly dialed the police but the phone was dead.

Thump, thump, thump, thump!

The hammering on the door was more insistent. Elizabeth! Edging towards the door I started reaching for the shotgun. The door handle began to turn.

Thump, thump! “Amanda!”

The man’s voice was strained. My hand gripped the cold barrel just as the door burst open sending me flying backwards and the shotgun skittering across the hallway floor and into the darkness of the den. Looking up from the floor I saw Johnny Wheatson reaching for me. Screaming I rolled away and ran upstairs, his steps sounding hard and fast behind me. Slamming the door to my room behind me Johnny cursed and yelled as his bloody, bandaged hand was smashed by the heavy door. Backing away Johnny heaved the door open. His face was contorted with pain.

“Amanda!” Spittle came from his mouth as he spoke my name.

I reached behind me for the .45 handgun we had hid in my desk drawer but Johnny was too fast. He lunged as I ducked away from him but his fingers grabbed my necklace and flung it to the side. I watched in cold dread as it slipped into the heating vent. It’s happening! Just like my dreams! Poor Elizabeth! Spinning I rushed for the door even as Johnny’s bloody hand gripped my shoulder. I tore away and ran downstairs and out into the gloomy forest.

The forest swallowed me with its cold mist and dark shadows. Diving behind a bush I hid and willed my heart to stop beating so loudly; my breath casting swirling clouds. It’s really happening. I’m going to die!

Crack!

Don’t move!

“Amanda…” Johnny’s voice was close; his voice was more of a soft rasp. “Amanda…” He’s closer now. Run!

Leaping to my feet I ran. The bushes snarling in my hair and tearing at my clothes but I ran deeper into the forest. Sharp pain erupted from my foot as I tripped on a large root and even as I fell I could hear the nearness of Johnny behind me. Scrambling forward on my hands and knees something grasped my ankle firmly and yanked me backwards. My hands dug into the cold rotting leaves. I kicked back with my other foot and heard a grunt of pain. Rolling over I looked into the wild face of Johnny; his teeth grinding together in pain.

“Amanda. They’re going to kill you. Get out of here! Run!”

Staring at Johnny with the light filtering through the forest I paused to take in his words. Suddenly the light flickered as a silhouette appeared behind him. With a sickening crunch and a slight metallic sound Johnny’s head snapped to the side and he slumped into the soil.

“You’re all right now, Amanda. I’ve called the police. They’re on their way.”

“Tony?”

He extended his hand towards me; his other held an old shovel. Elizabeth! I must get back to the house! Ignoring his hand I extracted my legs from under Johnny and backed away.

“Get to the house, Amanda.”

I don’t know what to think. Turning I ran back to the house. The front door was still open and pieces of wood were splintered across the floor. “Elizabeth!” Silence was my only reply. Picking up the phone there was no dial tone. How did Tony call the police? I raced upstairs to my bedroom and fumbled at my desk drawer. The gun is gone! A flicker of movement behind me caught my eye. Turning around slowly I saw Claire standing in the doorway; the handgun in her hand.

“Looking for this?”

“What are you doing here? What have you done to Elizabeth?”

“The look on your frightened face is priceless, Amanda. I wasn’t supposed to be here until the end but somehow you and your stupid dreams kept altering the way things were supposed to go. You look so surprised. I bet you didn’t think the third member of the triad would be me.”

I watched Claire in abject horror and disbelief. “What did you do to Elizabeth?”

“Elizabeth, Elizabeth. This has nothing to do with her other than she got in the way.” Claire looked over at the bed and used the gun to point at my dress still lying there since the morning. “You’re supposed to be wearing that dress. I have dreams too. Change. Now!”

The gun was levelled at me and I had no choice. Slowly I unbuttoned my blouse.

“You never did put it all together. And here I thought you were so smart.”

I shuddered as I slipped the dress on. “Is Elizabeth alive?”

“She is… for now. She will stay that way as long as you fully cooperate. That is if she doesn’t bleed out first.”

The door darkened behind Claire as Tony and Stephen stepped into the room. Tony held a yellow nylon rope in his hands.

Stephen pulled his hoodie back and sneered. “Hello, bitch. I’m finally going to get what is owed me tonight.” Stepping forward he swung his fist. Pain exploded across my cheek as I fell to the floor. He kicked me hard in the ribs. I felt them crack as I yelled out in pain. It was so hard to breathe. Tony pulled him Stephen and Claire knelt down; her hand caressed my cheek in a chilling way.

“You’re the key, Amanda.” I could only lie there frozen in fear and pain struggling to get air in my lungs. “Stephen will steal your virginity and earn his sexual prowess. I bet you might even enjoy it.” Her voice was laced with mirth. “Tony, your long lost illegitimate brother will inherit your trust fund and take his rightful place in this wretched family of yours.” My illegitimate brother? “And when I bury you in a shallow grave I will become famous. Thanks to you, we have a perfect scapegoat. Johnny Wheatson…” Claire smile ruthlessly. “It was so timely you set things in motion with him. After you approached him he was so worried for his job that he sought Tony out to clear his name. Little did he know when he stumbled onto the three of us plotting your demise that he would become the fall guy for Amanda De Havilland’s murderer. He was so valiant too; trying to warn you the other day when he had his terrible band saw accident. Even tonight he raced here to protect you after we drugged him with heroine. Soon the beautiful girl that has everything… the girl that has everyone wanting to protect her… the girl that is loved and cherished by all…” Claire smiled evilly again and closed her eyes slowly as if imagining her glorious future. “…will give away everything she has.” The handgun smashed against my temple and slipped into glorious unconsciousness.

***

I’m dreaming again. I feel the cold rotting leaves and sticks of the forest floor scratch against my skin as I’m being dragged. My head throbs. I need to wake up. I need to end this dream!

Forcing my eyes open the earie lights of the house filtered in monochrome rays through the mist-filled forest. My dress is bunched up under my breasts as I’m being dragged along the ground. My hands are bound by the yellow nylon rope. Screaming I begin thrashing and kicking. I dig my fingers into the cold rotting leaves but find no purchase. Reaching for a small tree trunk I hold fast only to be jerked so hard I felt my shoulders and hips pop as new pain flares across my body. “Don’t do this! Help! Someone!”

The dragging stops and a muddy military boot presses down heavily against my face. I can only whimper in pain. “Scream all you like, princess. Nobody can hear you.” The boot lifts away and I try to scramble to my feet. I’m going to fight. I’ll not give up. One step… Two… Hands grab my ankles as I crash face-first back into the desiccated leaves; an orange glow begins to appear in the mist as the barn’s lights get closer.

Tony is so strong he lifts me through the threshold and tosses me into the hay like I weighed nothing. There’s no blood. Rolling over Oscar is nowhere to be seen. I pray he is safe somewhere.

“You’re up, Stephen.” Tony stepped back into the shadows as Claire relaxed on a hay bail.

Stephen leaned in close over me, his alcohol-laced breath hot against my throat as his fingers slid down my neck. My hands were still bound but they were in front of me. I pushed him away with all my strength. “You’re such a coward, Stephen! You can’t get anyone to willingly have sex with you so you bolster your courage with alcohol and tie your victims up first?”

“Bitch!” His hand slapped me so hard I slipped into unconsciousness for a moment. As I came to a burlap sack was being pulled over my head and tied tightly around my neck. I’ve never been so afraid. Elizabeth, I love you. Please be safe! I couldn’t see much, just hazy shapes, but I could feel Stephen’s presence as he stood over me. With a clunk from his belt buckle his pants dropped heavily to the floor. His horrid slowly hands slid up the inside of my bare legs. I forced them together and kicked but all that got me was another punch to my head. Stephen was panting with desire as his fingers reached under the edge of my panties. I closed my eyes and wept as they were torn from my body and my legs thrust wide open.

The knife! Twisting to my left my hands dug through the hay. I only have a few seconds… My fingers felt the sharp edge of the hunting knife cut into them but I ignored the pain and grabbed for the handle just as Stephen dropped himself between my legs. Swinging with everything I had the blade found purchase somewhere in Stephen’s body. There was a crunch of bone as blood sprayed over my hands and body. The knife wrenched in my hands as Stephen silently fell on top of me.

“Shit!” Claire was screaming and angry.

“He was a worthless piece of garbage anyways.” I struggled under Stephen’s weight as I sensed Tony’s presence near me. “He’s dead, Claire. What do we do now?”

“Get rid of him and finish the job. She needs to be raped before she is killed.”

With a grunt Stephen’s body was shoved off of me. A rough hand grabbed my breast and I screamed out at the top of my lungs. Another hand clasped firmly around my throat cutting off my scream and my air. My legs were forced open again.

“Get your hands off of her you filthy creature!” There was a deafening roar as a shotgun fired and Tony fell to my side by the force of the blast.

Gasping for air I tried to reach the rope holding the burlap over my head as I heard a struggle and another shotgun blast ripped through the hay next me. I heard running and then hands were upon me. Screaming I twisted away.

“It’s me! Elizabeth. Oh God, Amanda!”

Elizabeth’s voice stopped me cold. “Elizabeth!” My voice was strained and weak. Tears of relief fell down my cheeks as the rope around my neck was untied and the sack removed from my head. As my vision cleared and refocused, barely able to see from my left eye I never thought I would ever see anything so beautiful. I was pulled hastily into Elizabeth’s arms.

“I thought I lost you, Amanda.” Elizabeth pulled back and began untying my hands as a woman’s scream erupted nearby followed by barking and growling.

“Oscar! Help him Elizabeth.”

The knots were loose enough I could work on them myself as Elizabeth hesitated then ran with the shotgun out into the forest. The barking and growling continued as I freed myself and with the sudden silencing of Oscar I felt as if something inside me broke away almost as if my soul had been tethered and then freed. Elizabeth rushed back into the barn with Oscar right behind.

My hands now free I struggled to my knees as Elizabeth swept me into her arms and covered me with kisses. My hands found her face and through my tears I whispered my love for her.

It was several minutes later that I noticed Elizabeth was bleeding. There was dried blood on her forehead and fresh blood coming from her side. “You’re hurt!”

“We both need to get to a hospital. Tony’s car is in the driveway.”

Turning around I came face to face with Stephen and Tony. The hunting knife was lodged in Stephen’s eye and Tony’s side and back was a mass of torn flesh. Closing my eyes I reached into Tony’s blood-soaked pocket. Finding his keys Elizabeth helped me to my feet. I cried out in pain as my ribs must be broken and my hip was in agony. Together we hobbled to the car. Elizabeth insisted on driving which was probably a good thing as moments later I passed out.

I came to just as we pulled up to emergency. Elizabeth was looking faint and held down the horn until people found us in the car. We were rushed into the hospital on individual gurneys but when they whisked Elizabeth away from my side I screamed and refused treatment so that I could stay with her. Elizabeth had to be sedated so they could examine and stitch up her side but until she was stable and resting peacefully I ignored the nurses and doctors trying to help me.

Surprisingly I had physically fared fairly well. I had three broken ribs, my right hip had dislocated, my nose was broken but still in place. I suffered some internal bleeding and had rope burns on my neck and wrists. I was covered in scratches and bruises but nothing life threatening.

The doctors and nurses soon gave way to police. The hospital had notified them immediately and the first police on the scene at my house quickly called for backup. It wasn’t long before police were standing at my bedside asking questions.

“I know you need your rest, Miss De Havilland and I hate to put you through any more stress but I need to make sure you are aware of a few things. Your parents have been notified and are on their way here as we speak. One woman was killed by your dog. We’ve had to call out animal control to quarantine him.”

“Oscar protected us!”

“I understand how you feel and he will be well cared for, but we had to take precautionary measures. When the dust settles I’m sure he will be released back into your care.” I nodded sadly. “We’ve identified three dead bodies. Claire Duprie, Tony Henderson, and Stephen Briarcliff. We found one more in critical condition. Johnny Wheatson. I need to briefly know what happened from your perspective.” I told him all I knew and what had transpired before the sedatives kicked in and I drifted off to sleep.

***

A warm hand slipped into mine waking me up from my dreamless sleep. Trying to open my eyes was like lifting a fifty pound sack of sand. Only one eye managed to open fully. Elizabeth sat in her wheelchair holding my hand. It was clear she had been crying.

Rolling on my side towards her a soft moan of pain escaped my lips. The sedatives, painkillers, and loss of adrenaline made me realize just how extensive my injuries really were. “Hey gorgeous. How’s my hero doing?” I managed to softly speak but my throat was raw and raspy.

Elizabeth’s lips found mine and although the kiss hurt I needed that kiss more than anything. “I’m so sorry I let you down.”

“When was that? When you were drugged and stabbed or when you shot Tony and wrestled Claire to save me?”

“I should have been next to you the entire time.”

Squeezing her hand I offered the best smile I could manage. “I went by myself to let Oscar out. What’s most important is that neither of us is dead.”

Elizabeth smiled weakly. “Your parents are here. I finally took over watching you and sent them for some food. You’ve been out for nearly eighteen hours. How are you?”

“I’m all right.”

Her eyes bored into mine. “How are you really?”

My bottom lip quivered of its own accord and soon a flood of tears soaked my pillow. “I don’t know if I’ll ever be all right. My body will heal but…”

“You will recover. I managed to move on after my rape which pales in comparison to what happened last night, but I know you’re strong enough to make it. You fought. You didn’t lose hope. I’ll be here by your side as long as you want me.”

Elizabeth’s eyes looked down and away from me. “I hope you’re prepared to stay with me the rest of your life then. There’s only one reason I didn’t give up and that was to hopefully be your devoted wife to the end of my days.”

Her eyes shot up and a smile spread across her face just as father and mother came back into the room.

“I’ll give you all some time alone.”

It was father that spoke first. “Nonsense, Elizabeth. You’re family.”

I was confused by that statement but it was quickly forgotten amidst the tender hugs and concerned discussion.

Father looked visibly upset by everything. “This is entirely my fault. Tony was a mistake from before I met your mother. A number of years ago he showed up claiming I was his father. Timing was right and with some investigation he was proven to be my son. I’ve been secretly supporting him ever since and gave him work. He soon became indispensable to me and had access to my most important documents. He must have seen your trust fund information and hatched his plan for getting ahold of it. I’m so sorry, Amanda.”

“Claire mentioned something about a trust fund last night. What is that all about?”

“When my father passed along the business he set aside a million dollars for you, or the next of kin should anything happen to you. The trust fund was to be given to you on your twenty-first birthday and with careful management it has grown to just over two million dollars.”

“Father, you didn’t do this. You can’t blame yourself. The mastermind behind it all was Claire. She was involved in performing some satanic ritual and brought in Tony and Stephen. My death was supposed to bring Tony riches, Stephen sexual prowess, and Claire fame.”

“But I allowed Tony to get close to us; to be almost a part of our family. He resented you for what he didn’t have and I should have seen that and put a stop to it.”

A police officer came into the room. “I’m glad I found you all here. I want you to know Amanda that all charges against you have been dropped.”

“I wasn’t aware I had charges pending against me.”

“The Briarcliffs wanted to pursue murder charges against you for their son, Stephen, however after evidence was found linking him to the murder plot, the recorded threats against you by him, and testimony by Johnny Wheatson they decided to drop all charges. It would have never stood up in court anyways as clearly your actions were in self-defense. They wished me to pass on their sincerest apologies for the atrocities that were committed against you.”

“Johnny is alive?”

“He is not out of the woods yet, but he is expected to make a recovery. Claire Duprie’s residence proved to be filled with journals, notes, plans, and books that detailed precise timing and details. They outlined each person’s role. It was all pretty gruesome stuff. Our police department has never had to process such a crime before. May I ask how you and Elizabeth are holding up?”

I was grateful Elizabeth answered for me. “We will both physically recover. Over time we might be able to move beyond the emotional trauma.”

“On behalf of the police department, we wish you all well. We will be processing the scene for another day or two. Please let us know if there is anything we can do for you.”

***

Elizabeth and I spent another day in the hospital and upon our release we stayed together at Elizabeth’s house. I wasn’t ready to face my bedroom yet or the memories of the horrors we both went through. Every night I woke fearful and in tears but Elizabeth’s immediate presence comforted me quickly. My dreams had shifted from foreboding to repetition of actual events. During the day I was mostly fine, but when darkness came strange sounds caused me to fret. Elizabeth was a trooper throughout and was constantly at my side.

“It’s been a week, Elizabeth. The swelling is down on my face and although I still have bruising and cuts healing, I need to get out and get some fresh air. I need closure.”

“You want to go home?”

“I have to. There’s something I really need there. But I think you should be there with me. We should stay a few days before making longer-term plans. I want to go to Madam Claire’s and stop by the hospital and see Johnny.”

“That’s very ambitious. Why go to Madam Claire’s?”

“Because if I don’t I’ll always want to avoid that area of town for fear of running into Claire’s mother. I don’t want to live in fear anymore.”

“All right. I’ve got a present for you outside.”

“A present?” My feminine giddiness around a gift made me feel almost human again. I rushed to the door and looked outside to see my Honda CRX sitting there.

“Your dad called while you were asleep and said it was ready. I called over to the shop to have them deliver it here. There’s something else on the driver’s seat.”

Running out to the car I opened the door to see a new bikini sitting there. It was pretty skimpy but I loved it all the more because it came from Elizabeth. I ran back and gave Elizabeth a hug and kiss, even though I had to wince at my still sore ribs. “I feel bad. I owe you multiple gifts now.”

“You being alive is the only gift I ever need.”

***

Having my little blue bomber made things a lot easier for getting around. I pulled up in front of Madam Claire’s to see a makeshift closed sign hanging in the window.

“I need to see if she’s home.”

Elizabeth nodded and got out of the car. I was at the door and about to knock when the door opened. Upon seeing me Claire’s mother burst into tears and enfolded me into her arms. “I’m so glad you came by. I’ve felt so badly about what happened to you and all because of Claire. I… I still can’t fathom why she would ever do something like this.”

“For what it’s worth, I’m sorry for your loss.” Boxes were scattered across the room. “You’re leaving?”

“The press was very unfavorable to Claire. I understand it. The community is in shock over what happened and Claire was a big part of it. It’s funny that good people will come and pay for my service but once Claire was tied to Satanism my services were suddenly frowned upon. People are less forgiving than you are.”

“I’m struggling with forgiveness.”

“Forgiveness is not a single event, it’s a lifelong journey. May I?” She extended her hands seeking one of mine and one from Elizabeth. We slipped our hands into hers. “The darkness is gone from you child and I see a life of happiness before you both. I wish you both well.”

“Thank you. For what it’s worth, I’m trying hard to forgive Claire. I think once I put this all behind me I’ll be able to do it.” We left hoping Claire’s mother would be able to move on with her life.

“That was a beautiful thing you did, Amanda. I hadn’t really thought about how those around Claire must also need closure. I’ve been so overwhelmed with hatred to those that wanted to harm you that I’ve stopped caring about others. My sole focus has been you.”

Reaching out my hand I took hers in mine. “I’m rather fond of being your sole focus.”

Elizabeth smiled. “How are your ribs doing?”

I smiled back, happy that my smile was no longer lopsided with swelling. “Fine, as long as I’m on top.”

“We will have less privacy in your room tonight.”

“What are you thinking about, Elizabeth?”

“You know exactly what I’m thinking you little minx.”

It feels good to be able to laugh again.

Our next stop was the hospital to see Johnny Wheatson. All those dreams over all those years and Johnny was only trying to warn me. The heroine the triad had given him combined with the pain of his missing fingers made him react like a crazy man. I felt guilty he had suffered so much because of me.

Sheepishly I looked into his room. Father had upgraded him to a private room and was making sure his hospital bills were taken care of.

“Amanda?”

That was all the invitation I needed. Elizabeth and I entered the room and stood next to Johnny’s bed. His head was bandaged in places and it was clear they had to shave part of his hair off to stitch up the place where the shovel hit him. His hand was fully bandaged as well.

“I’m so sorry for everything you had to go through, Johnny.”

“Don’t be sorry. I’ve been pretty self-centered all of my life and can’t remember the last time I did something that was in someone else’s best interest. When you came by to find me and warned me that Tony and your father might be looking into my background it was a wake-up call for me. I’d been dealing a little on the side and that truly frightened me. I decided my job was the only good thing in my life and if I wanted to keep it I needed to go to Tony and your father and come clean. That’s when I stumbled onto Tony, Claire, and Stephen planning your murder.”

“And when you came to warn me Stephen and Tony cut your fingers off.”

Johnny held up his bandaged hand and stared at it. “That wasn’t the half of it. They took me to a shack and tied me up. For two days I listened to them describe what they were going to do to you; the rape, cutting off your fingers to make it look like I had done everything out of revenge… Amanda, I’m just so grateful you’re still alive.”

“What about you? What are you going to do now?”

“My ability to work as a woodworker is much diminished now, but your father has offered to have his foreman, Joe Marconi, mentor me. Assuming I learn and do well, he wants me to become the next night foreman.”

Taking his good hand in mine I squeezed it gently. “You’re a good man, Johnny. Don’t ever let anyone say anything different about you.”

“Take care, Amanda.”

When we got back to the car I had to pause a little to catch my breath.

“Satan’s going to be miffed he never got his hands on you, Amanda. There is just something about you that brings out the best in people.”

“Except for Claire, Tony, and Stephen.”

We drove to my house and I could tell every effort was made to remove the signs of the crime. The front door was repaired and several workers were working to brighten the place up with fresh coats of paint. By the time I opened the door Oscar came bounding around the corner of the house and straight for me. His heavy tail swung back and forth with every ounce of his energy as I hugged him tight.

“You’re such a good boy, Oscar. Forgive me that I ever called you a mooch.”

Woof!

Standing up Elizabeth came and slipped her hand around my waist and I stared at the house. I needed her touch for extra strength. I adjusted my dress, carefully chosen for its ability to cover my legs and look conservative. Will I ever get over the feeling of Stephen’s hands moving up my legs?

Mother and father appeared at the front door but didn’t simply stand there. They came down the steps and headed straight for us hugging and kissing us both. We had daily visits from them, but today they seemed touched by extra emotion. I guess there’s nothing like seeing your daughter come home.

Mother was hovering. “Everything is back to normal here. We even had your room freshly painted. I see you brought your things, Elizabeth. Will you both be staying over tonight?”

“I’m not quite ready to be alone yet, mother. I hope it’s all right.”

“It’s fine, dear. Why don’t you head inside and get settled.”

Stepping over the threshold of the door was difficult but entering my room was even harder. Turning back to Elizabeth I put my hand to her face. “Give me a second…”

“Of course.”

A chill went down my spine as I stepped into my room. I placed my hand on the freshly painted door frame recalling Johnny’s bloody hand being smashed there. The room was in order and there was nothing to indicate the trauma that had occurred here a week ago. I pulled in a shaky breath and smelled the fresh-cut roses from the greenhouse. My eyes turned to the heating vent and a sudden urgency filled me. My heart fluttered as I pulled the register and reached inside finding my ring and necklace.

Sitting down I stroked the precious metal between my fingers and wiped the tears that slipped down my cheek. My life as Mark Patterson seems so distant now. I wonder if Mark was born with a different soul. I’m home. I’m alive. I’m Amanda De Havilland and never want to be anything else. Well, maybe one thing…

Unclasping the necklace I pulled the ring off and slipped it on my ring finger. Looking up I saw Elizabeth’s tears as she watched me hold up my hand so the sunlight could glint of the ring she had given me. Smiling wide I threw myself into her arms and covered her in kisses. My aching ribs all but ignored.

***

The warm summer sun baked down upon me as I lay on our own private beach in Key West, Florida. It had been nearly seven months since the incident. Elizabeth and I stayed together in my room for a few days but I never managed to feel comfortable in my room again. The forest felt oppressive and I couldn’t bring myself to go back into the barn.

Elizabeth and I decided to move in together into the house she rented in town. Mother and father understood and fully accepted our relationship. I think after everything that happened they realized it would be hard for me to trust another man again. When my twenty-first birthday came around we had a great celebration. By then I was starting to feel more comfortable in wearing my more revealing dresses again and life was starting to feel less fearful. A month later when my trust fund was released Elizabeth and I reluctantly told my parents we would look to buy a place in Florida. We chose beachfront, isolation, and views over luxury. Our tiny place on the beach felt like home immediately.

I purchased one hundred thousand dollars of Apple stock when it took a dip in the market. Everyone said I was crazy but I have inside information of what’s going to happen over the next thirty years. I’m waiting for Google to emerge for my next investment.

I’m still considering applying for the FBI but life as Elizabeth’s partner is so wonderful that I’ll defer that decision for a while. After what we had both been through taking a year or two to travel and restore ourselves seems appropriate.

“I always knew that bikini would look incredible on you, Amanda.”

“Are you fast enough to get it off of me?”

“You don’t stand a chance.” Elizabeth smiled mischievously as I ran for the water screaming and giggling.

***

It takes a lot of time and effort to write stories like this. Please take a moment and send me a message or write a review. I’d love to know what you think or how the story made you feel. Your comments make me want to continue writing. I hope you enjoyed it!

- Casey Brooke



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