Double Blind(7)
Author:Brandilyn Collins


    My eyes popped open, my heart kicking the walls of my ribs. I lay there, shaking, sucking oxygen.

    No kitchen. No knife, no man. Just my hospital room, dark.

    Sweat itched my forehead. I raised a hand to wipe it away. The fingers looked like my own. Not a man’s. Mine.

    My lungs relaxed a little. Deep breaths, Lisa.

    I licked my lips. Reached for my glass to drink some water.

    It was a dream. Just a dream.

    But I hadn’t been asleep yet. Had I?

    Whatever it was, the memory of my attack must have spawned it. But something . . .

    Long minutes passed. I stared at the ceiling. Sleep stole out of the room. Fresh fear swept over me, weighting me to the bed. My mouth went dry again. Why was I so terrified?

    Had I gotten the placebo chip after all?

    No, that couldn’t be. I wouldn’t be able to handle that. Besides, I still felt different. Stronger than before. This . . . thing was something else. Something new.

    Lisa, it was just a nightmare.

    Really? When had I ever had a dream about being a man? His actions—I’d witnessed them from inside his head. I could still see those fingers around the woman’s neck. The cold promise of the knife in his hand. Could see it arcing down toward her heart.

    She couldn’t have survived a stabbing like that. He’d killed her.

    Lisa. It was just a dream.

    No it wasn’t.

    I drank some more water. Carefully turned on my right side. An hour passed. Two. Squalling drowsiness threatened to overtake me, but I fought it. I didn’t want to relive that scene again.

    Just before finally drifting off, I remembered the anesthesia and pain pills. All those drugs. Of course they were the cause. That scene was just a hallucination. I’d be better tomorrow, when everything was out of my system.

    When I could go home and start my new life . . .





    SUNDAY, MARCH 11




    Chapter 7





    SUNDAY MORNING DAWNED.

    I lay in bed trying to figure out what I was feeling. Brittle relief, maybe? I’d had no more bad dreams during the night. And today I got to go home. Most of all, the Empowerment Chip was still working. But that awful murder scene pulsed in my head. It didn’t seem like a dream or hallucination at all. It seemed real.

    Which, of course, was ridiculous.

    I got up and managed to shower. Just had to be careful not to get my bandage wet. The warm water washed the dream away. A little.

    After breakfast a nurse brought in a phone, and I used it for my one allowed call to make sure Sherry was coming at noon.

    “Lisa! How are you?”

    “Healed, Sherry.” I loved that word. “The chip worked. I’m not depressed anymore. It’s absolutely incredible!”

    She gasped. “Oh, Lisa.” Her voice cracked. For a moment she couldn’t say anything.

    I babbled on about all the wonderful things I’d experienced. How I was able to remember events without feeling the pain. I’d planned to tell her about the horrible dream, too. But suddenly I couldn’t. She was so happy that I was well. I didn’t want to spoil that. Besides, talking to Sherry dampened the memory of the nightmare even more.

    “I can’t wait to see the kids,” I said. “It’s been so long.”

    “And they’ll love to see you.”

    By the time I hung up I had tears in my eyes.

    Dr. Rayner arrived to check on me, performing all the typical doctorly tasks. He didn’t ask if I felt better emotionally. That was Jerry and Clair’s job. Instead he read the nurse’s computerized chart for my vitals. Made me follow his moving finger with my eyes. Then he removed the bandage from my head and peered at the stitches. “Yes.” His fingers were gentle. “Looks good.” He replaced the bandage and stood back, hands in the pocket of his white coat.

    I just wanted him to pronounce I was allowed to leave. “Do I have to come back to get the stitches out?”

    “In about ten days.”

    I winced. “Won’t I look terrific in the meantime.”

    Wow. I was thinking about how I looked. How many months since I’d worried about that?

    My lips spread in a lopsided smile. See, I was fine. Better than fine. That nightmare had been a rattling bump in the road. Now my path was clear.

    “You don’t need to be going out anyway,” the doc said. “Remember all the instructions you were given before surgery? Take it easy this week. Even with a procedure that goes smoothly, anesthesia is hard on the body. How are you feeling now?”

    “Good.”

    “Been up and around?”

    “Yes.”

    “All right.” He nodded. “Looks like you’re ready to go home.”

    Yes! “I can’t wait.” I shifted against the pillows. “Did you hear how well the chip’s working? It’s cured my depression.”

    He smiled. “That’s terrific. I’m so glad for you. And for Cognoscenti.”

    “Yeah. I haven’t felt like this—”

    The knife raised up in the man’s right hand.

    I froze. My vision glazed over.

    On his fourth finger sat a huge ring. A gold dragon’s head, with emeralds for eyes.

    “Ms. Newberry?”

    No, not again. What was happening? My fingers dug into the bedcovers. These were new details from that dream. But I was fully awake. How could I see this now, when I was awake?

    “Lisa? You feeling dizzy?” The doctor’s voice sounded far away.

    “N-no.”

    He eyed me. “Are you sure? We can keep you another day.”

    “No.” I gripped the bed sheet harder. It had to be the hospital, this room. Get me home, and I’d be fine. I wanted to see Sherry today. “It was nothing. I really want to get out of here.”

    He gazed at me, then finally nodded. “You have someone coming to get you?”

    “Yes, at noon.” I swallowed, trying to lighten my voice. “Really, I’m fine. The chip has made such a difference—”

    The knife rose up. The dragon ring glinted in the light.

    No, stop! I cringed. That ring. It was so ugly. And scary.

    Dr. Rayner studied me.

    The knife disappeared. I forced my breathing to return to normal.

    No more pictures came.

    Somehow I managed a smile for the doctor. Any more of this weirdness, and he’d make me stay another night. “Thanks for checking on me. And thanks for doing such a great job on the surgery. I can’t believe how easy it was.”

    “You’re welcome.”

    He looked me over one final time, then made a few more notes in the computer and left.

    A long breath whooshed out of me. I stared across the room. Why had I seen those things now? I couldn’t have any more drugs in me. But that knife and ring. They were clear as daylight.

    I tossed back the covers and slid from bed. Lying there was no good. I needed to be moving, occupying my mind. Sherry would be here in an hour.

    So I concentrated on getting ready. When thoughts of the man and knife tried to return, I pushed them away and imagined greeting Sherry. She’d be tongue-tied when she saw what the chip had done for me. Next I thought of Ryan. I pictured our first date, our wedding. Moving to California for his new bank manager job. The memories made me smile. Made me feel Ryan, almost as if I could touch him.

    I stopped in the middle of the room and hugged myself, eyes closed.

    My legs got tired, and I sat in a chair. I checked my watch. Earlier that morning a nurse had reminded me to move it forward one hour for daylight savings time. It was now eleven thirty. Only a half hour until Sherry came. What would I do first when I saw her? Hug her? Burst into tears?

    Time passed slowly.

    I wandered into the bathroom, checking my reflection in the mirror. The bandage on my head looked strange. Even when that came off and the stitches were out, it would take awhile for my hair to grow back. My face still looked thin. I’d lost twenty pounds since Ryan’s funeral. But my eyes. In the past nine months their milk chocolate color had muddied. Now they shone with new hope. And my mouth no longer turned down.

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