Authors: Terri Reid
Tags: #Paranormal Fiction, #General Fiction Speculative Fiction Suspense
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Prologue - Galena, Illinois – 1980s
The candidate stood at the front of the ballroom a few feet behind the podium on a makeshift stage. He was young, tall and handsome. And behind the pretty-boy looks was a shrewd intelligence and quick wit that had won him respect, especially from his opponents. His lopsided grin, the one that could break hearts and win votes, was present as he had greeted his faithful volunteers and supporters.
The variety of the guests portrayed the eclectic spirit of the eighties. “Miami Vice” and “Material Girl” look-alikes mingled with Ralph Lauren and Armani aficionados. Wine, hard liquor and other, more discreetly served stimulants of choice, were sipped or inhaled in various venues throughout the mansion. Trays of hors d'oeuvres were efficiently served and champagne was free flowing.
Soft lights emphasized subtle shades of blush and eye shadow, and flattered the complexions of aging society matrons. Clicking spiked heels crossing the marble floor from the doorway to the ballroom added a discordant beat to The Bangles’ “Walk Like An Egyptian.”
Red, white and blue crepe paper hung garishly against the oak paneled walls of the ballroom. Their patriotic theme was continued with bright banners hanging from the soaring ceiling of the ballroom.
The candidate surveyed his kingdom, smiled to himself in satisfaction and moved to the podium. He lifted his hands in welcome. The music was silenced, but the conversation of the crowd was deafening.
“We did it,” he yelled above the clamoring of the crowd. “No, you did it! I would not be here tonight if not for you!”
As he expected, the crowd went wild
He had them convinced he was the only one capable of being their representative in the state senate. But that was only his first step; he had plans which included sitting behind the desk in the Oval Office.
“Of course, now comes the hard part,” he yelled over the crowd, “saying something nice about my opponent to the media.”
Once again the crowd responded with delight, chanting his name. “Ryerson, Ryerson, Ryerson!”
He waved at the crowd once more and stepped down from the stage. His eyes sought the corner of the room. His campaign manager, Hank Montague, stood at the back of the room, nodding his approval. The rest of the support staff - Jerry, Mike and Renee - stood next to Hank, raising their glasses in celebration. He smiled at them and then let his eyes rest for a moment longer on Renee.
Her honey-gold hair was wrapped up in a soft chignon tonight, but he remembered how it looked when it was loose, flowing over her body – their bodies. He gazed at the simple black dress she wore and imagined slowly peeling it off of her.
He stopped himself - letting his mind wander now could be dangerous. There were too many who were hoping for perfection, but looking for flaws.
He turned towards her once again and barely nodded. She understood; they had existed on shared secrets for several months now. He had to carefully consider his next steps, especially when it came to Renee. He couldn’t afford a scandal – not now, when his political career had just taken off. Whatever he decided, he had to move quickly and make sure that any residual damage was minimized.
She caught his eye once more, lifted her glass in a subtle toast and grinned. The teasing in her eyes lasted until she stopped at the open French doors. She turned at the door and looked back over her shoulder, sending him another kind of look altogether. He felt the heat across the room. Coughing into his hand and nodding slightly, he signaled that he would be meeting her soon.
“So, where are you off to?” Jerry asked.
Renee smiled. “It’s getting a little stuffy in here. Now that the announcement’s been made, I’m going to catch a little air.”
With her hand on the stone balustrade, she slipped off her high heels and stepped from the patio to the grass. The mild fall weather had encouraged late blooms and thick lawns. She inhaled the spicy scent of chrysanthemums as she wandered through the ornamental gardens. The full moon lit the way as she walked past arbors and fruit trees to the back of the gardens.
The incongruent scents of hardy mums, burning leaves, mesquite smoke and grilling steaks melded together to form a unique perfume that spoke of memories and possibilities.
She peeked over her shoulder once again before she slipped through a break in the tall hedge that surrounded the garden, and made her way cautiously across a small bridge. Following the path from the bridge, she found the wrought iron fence covered with ivy from years of growth. She lifted the well-oiled latch on the gate and slipped inside.
A beam of moonlight floated on the top of the water. Sitting at the edge of the pool, she slowly lowered her bare feet into the warm darkness. When he had first brought her out to the secluded heated pool, she thought it was the ultimate self-indulgence. But after spending some of their most intimate moments in the pool, she now thought of it as a definite necessity. She wiggled her toes - her movements causing the reflection to dance in soft waves against the other end of the pool. She giggled and splashed her feet flatly against the surface of the water. A small wave of moonlight splashed up against the opposite deck.
She lifted her glass for another sip of champagne and was surprised to find it empty. She licked the edge of the cup and sadly put it down on the mosaic tile.
The music from inside the house drifted out to her, slow and bluesy. Her body swayed to the sound. But even the blues couldn’t dampen her spirits, for once in her life things were going to go her way.
She slowly rubbed her abdomen beneath her black silk sheath.
Yes, wonderful things are going to happen,
He watched her slip through the gate.
Perfect. Nice and private.
He moved swiftly and quietly down the path, making sure that he was not discovered.
Such a shame, she was a looker. But hey, you gotta clean up all the loose ends.
The gate opened noiselessly. His soft-soled shoes made no sound on the deck surrounding the pool.
She gasped in surprise when his hands came down on her shoulders. She tried to turn and look at him, but his fingers bit down on her shoulders, keeping her in place. Her angry cry quickly turned into a purr when he slowly massaged her back and her neck.
“I’m so glad you could meet me out here, I have such wonderful news for you,” she said.
She felt a slight pinprick against her neck and tried to jump away, swatting at the invisible bug. But his hand held her firmly in place.
“Ow, damn mosquitoes!” she complained. “You really should spray some insecticide out here...”
She yawned softly and closed her eyes.
“I guess I’m feeling a little tired,” she whispered, “too much champagne. I can’t keep my eyes open.”
Her body sank slowly down, she felt enveloped by the darkness. She looked up, saw the glitter of the moonlight above her and smiled.
Suddenly, her mind broke through the haze of the drug. She struggled against the strong arms holding her under the water. Her shouts surfaced as large bubbles of air, her thrashing arms and legs as soft waves against the sides of the pool. In a few moments the bubbles stopped, the waves became gentle ripples and Renee sank to the bottom of the pool.
“Oh, God, my baby!” was her last thought before she slipped away.
Chapter One - (Present day)
Moonlight stole through the living room windows of the small two-story home in the quiet town of Freeport, Illinois. Its light cast shadows around the tastefully decorated room - turning ordinary objects into spectral stalkers.
The wind ruffled the sheer curtains that swept over the polished wood floor. In the hall, an antique grandfather clock struck the hour of midnight. Clear tones echoed the twelve chimes throughout the quiet house.
Silence shrouded the home for a moment. Then a muffled noise came from behind the door that led from the basement stairs. Thump. Thump. Thump. It moved closer. The polished ceramic doorknob rattled. Thump. Thump. Thump. The door shook from the force of the blows. Thump. Thump. Thump. Once again the lock and hinges held the door in place. Thump. Thump. Thump. Finally, the wood around the brass lock splintered and the door crashed open.
He slowly shuffled from the doorway toward the staircase that led upstairs. Upstairs to the beautifully appointed bedroom. The bedroom where one woman slept. Alone and unprotected.
The wind moved through the curtains on the landing, midway up the stairs. The wind caught his scent and carried it forward - the sickly sweet scent of a decomposing body. He paused for a moment on the landing and then continued slowly up the stairs.
All of his movements were marked by a clear trail of blood. Streaks of blood mottled the floor, the Oriental rug and now, the top of the stairs.
The bedroom door at the end of the hall was slightly ajar. Thick white carpeting muffled his footsteps. He slowly pushed the door open and entered the room.
Moonlight spilled over the bed. Mary’s long, light brown hair was spread across the pillowcase, a blanket covering half of her face. She was snoring lightly and her arm was stretched over her head.
He moved closer to the bed.
She wanted to hold her breath. The smell was almost too much to take. Instead, she concentrated on keeping her breath steady and rhythmic as if she were really asleep.
He stopped next to the bed and leaned forward. Hanging over her in the dark.
She heard the drops of blood hit the ivory 400-count down comforter. Plunk. Plunk. Plunk.
She turned in her bed and looked up at him. He was dressed in gray - a Union soldier. His uniform was riddled with bullet holes and thick red blood slowly seeped from each opening. But the blood dripping on her bed was not coming from those oozing apertures. No, the blood dripped from the stump where his head used to be.
Plunk. Plunk. Plunk.
She watched as the blood pooled on the comforter.
“Crap, this is going to stain!”
She closed her eyes for a moment and then pushed herself up in her bed.
“Look, I’ve just had a really bad day and I can’t deal with you tonight. Okay?”
He paused…and straightened. After contemplating her response for a moment, he shrugged his shoulders, turned and slowly shuffled out of the room.
“And try to keep your blood off the new tiles in the kitchen,” she called after him.
She put her elbows on her knees, laid her head in her hands and sighed. Was she ever going to get a good night’s sleep?
Well, she might as well go and see what kind of mess he left downstairs.
She slipped out of her bed, examining the comforter for damage. Fortunately, when he had departed, so had his blood.
“Bonus,” she muttered.
Pulling on a short, silk robe, she tied it as she headed down the stairs. She watched him retreat through the broken door, then closed it and moved a chair in front of it in until she could replace the lock – this time, she decided, with a deadbolt.
“Deadbolt – good one,” she chuckled.
Glancing around the room, she could see that other than a rumpled rug, he did surprisingly little damage.
“Not bad for a headless dead guy.”
The broadcaster’s voice pierced the fog of sleep that encompassed Mary. She moaned and blindly reached out from her cocoon of blankets, trying to find the snooze button. Of course she couldn’t reach it – she’d purposely placed the radio alarm far enough away from the bed so she had to get up to turn it off. She knew herself better than that.
Grumbling, she tossed the blankets off and stumbled across the room to her dresser. She flipped off the alarm and started to turn back to her inviting bed when she saw the yellow sports bra hanging as a reminder across the corner of the mirror.
Mary’s eyes widened – oh, yeah, the race!
She groaned and opened her top drawer, grabbed the rest of her running gear and headed to the bathroom.
A few minutes later she was outside on her front porch, putting her half-asleep body through a series of stretches, while she inhaled slowly and deeply. She loved the scent of fall mornings. She turned toward the road and did her quad stretches, bending her right leg back and holding her right ankle with her hand.
She could tell someone in the neighborhood had used their fireplace last night, inhaling the faint aroma of burnt wood. Turning toward the porch, she slowly touched her toes. The dew was still heavy on the marigolds and mums in her front yard, the combination of spicy flower and damp soil filled her lungs. Somehow the morning air was fresher and more invigorating than any other time of the day. She glanced up to the thermometer on her porch, 52 degrees. Although the mid-October morning was chilly, she knew the day would warm up soon enough. Feeling stretched out, she jogged down the street toward the city park.
The streets were deserted and the morning sun was just barely peeking over the hill on the east side of town. She breathed in deeply. This was the nice thing about living in a small town: fresh air, quiet streets and interesting people.
Interesting people. She smiled to herself as she thought about the interesting person who was likely to be waiting for her at the park. Her mystery man. Her morning motivation. Her competitor.
At first, the meetings had been accidental. They both jogged in the park at the ungodly hour of five o’clock. They kept to the same path - never speaking - but during the last lap an unspoken competition had developed. Both raced to the finish line, trying to outrun the other.
After a few weeks they waited for each other, still never speaking a word. Only a courtly nod of greeting and the race was on. Now, six months later, he was a regular part of her routine.