Double Blind(9)
Author:Brandilyn Collins


    Why did these pictures keep coming back?

    By tomorrow they’d be gone. I just needed to rest.

    Sherry touched my arm. “You all right?”

    “Yeah.”

    She hesitated, as if wondering whether to believe me. “Let’s go check out your kitchen.”

    “Okay.”

    We looked in my refrigerator and small pantry. Not much food there. Sherry made a list and headed for the store. I stretched out on the couch and tried to relax, but the visions rose up, fast and hard. I broke into a sweat. By the time Sherry came back I was exhausted. What was this in my head?

    God, please turn it off.

    I started to lug myself up to help put groceries away. Sherry took one look at me and ordered me to stay down. I obeyed. She banged around the kitchen. I trembled on the couch.

    “All right, Miss Bionic Woman.” Sherry stood over me, hands on her hips. “Anything else I can do for you?”

    “No. You’ve done plenty.”

    Her head tilted. “You’re looking so pale. I think I’ll stick around and make sure you’re all right.”

    The thought of her watching me as I fought to hide my panic . . . “All I’m going to do is sleep.”

    “You sure?”

    “Uh-huh.”

    “What happens when you wake up? Maybe I should be here to wait on you. Like your own private nurse.”

    I managed a wan smile. “I’ll be fine. You saw me walk up the stairs.”

    “You’ve just had brain surgery.”

    “I’ve just gotten a new life.” I smiled again, wider this time.

    She pushed her lips out. “Okay. Well then, guess I’ll have to drag myself back to those noisy kids of mine.”

    My thoughts swam. Another minute of her hanging around, and I’d break down and tell her what was happening. Then she’d get all worried and call the doctor. And they’d make me go back to the hospital . . .

    “Kiss them both for me, Sherry. Tell them I’ll visit them soon.”

    “I will. And listen, you—call if you need me, and I’ll come back over. At the very least, check in with me tonight. If you don’t, I’m calling you. And you’d better answer, or I’m breaking your door down.”

    “Okay, Mom.”

    Sherry made a face. She did not like my mother one bit, not after the scene at Ryan’s funeral. She gave me a final once-over. “Don’t make me sorry I left you alone, now.”

    “I won’t.”

    Sherry leaned down to kiss my cheek and left.

    I got up to bolt the door behind her. Turned around to head toward my inviting bed—

    A large black suitcase sat before me. Waiting.

    I stopped. Threw wild glances around the living room. A suitcase? Here? Where’d it come from? It looked so real. So . . . evil.

    That suitcase meant death.

    What?

    The man’s hand—my hand—reached for the handle of the suitcase . . .

    My feet backed me up against the wall. I pressed against it, shivering. Run away from it, my mind cried. But where? Why? I was alone in the apartment, locked in. No one could hurt me here.

    He picked it up. It lifted from the floor with a soft whoosh.

    A muted scream gurgled out of me. I pressed against the wall, hands before my face. The sound was here.

    I shook harder.

    No, this wasn’t really happening. I just needed to calm—

    The woman lay dead on the floor, blood trailing from her sagging mouth. Eyes wide and fixed.

    I slid to the carpet and hugged my knees. What was happening to me?

    The living room swelled, suddenly too big, too dangerous. I crawled to a corner and huddled there.

    No, not enough! I needed to hide.

    From what?

    I lurched to my feet and stumbled into my bedroom. I’d jump into the closet—

    What if someone was already in there? Waiting for me . . .

    I stared at the closet door.

    No one’s in there, Lisa. Get a grip.

    A long moment passed. Slowly my terror began to ebb.

    I scraped up bits of courage and flung open the closet door. Pushed aside clothes.

    No one hiding. No suitcase.

    I sank to the floor, relieved. Spent. My breathing was ragged.

    When I could get up, I locked the door to the room and fell on my bed. That gripping paranoia I’d felt—that was like the fear from my old life.

    Was I regressing? Had the chip stopped working?

    No way.

    Sleep, that’s what I needed. If I could just sleep . . .

    I crawled under the covers and curled into a fetal position. Squeezed my eyes shut.

    A big, black suitcase. Lying on a wooden floor. I saw myself zip it open with my right hand—the man’s hand. On his fourth finger sat the dragon’s head ring. The metallic whir of the zipper rang in my ears. He pulled the cover back. The bag gaped wide, ready to be filled . . .

    My eyes opened, but the picture still shrieked. My body flushed with heat, then chilled. Every limb locked tight.

    God, make it stop!

    But the daymare wore on.

    An hour passed, and still I huddled there. The visions intensified. A second hour went by. More scenes. The clock ticked slowly. Four o’clock came. The woman died again and again, choked and stabbed. Ten, twenty times the man’s hand with the ring opened the suitcase. Five o’clock came. I never slept. I only saw the murder. Over and over and over. Relived every detail through the man’s eyes.

    My eyes.

    “Why can’t you stop cheating on me? You’re nothing but a liar!”

    “Shut up!”

    Every time I saw the scenes, they cut deeper into my gut. I was awake. These weren’t dreams. My mind wasn’t making them up. I could practically feel these people. Taste the woman’s fear, smell the death. Even so I tried and tried to convince myself it was just my imagination run wild. But I knew that wasn’t true. These events weren’t stories.

    They were real.

    But that couldn’t be right. It wasn’t even possible.

    Then how do you explain this, Lisa?

    I’d just had surgery, with anesthesia and drugs, that’s how. Maybe the combination had caused my mind to make up a terrible story. Now it was obsessed. These were more hallucinations, that was all. They would pass.

    They didn’t.

    Six o’clock. The pictures screamed at me.

    Seven.

    By 8:00 my muscles were so cramped I could barely move. The killing wouldn’t stop. And I was going flat-out insane. Every bit of energy had drained away. Blaming the drugs no longer worked. This was Sunday night. I hadn’t taken any meds since Friday morning. They were long out of my system. This wasn’t medication or anesthesia. And it wasn’t my old fears rising up.

    It wasn’t me at all.

    “You’ll be okay, you will, you will,” I chanted to myself through clenched teeth. But I wasn’t okay. Because if these visions weren’t from me, they were from something else. And that could be only one thing: the Empowerment Chip.

    My fingers fisted. I pressed them against my face. No. Not something wrong with the chip. Not some foreign, awful thing in my own head. The chip was good. It had helped me.

    How could a few electrical circuits even do this?

    “I don’t want a broken one.”

    Why had I said that to the nurse? Was it a premonition?

    But Deb Smith had insisted the chips were fine. So had Jerry and Ice Queen.

    It couldn’t be the chip. These visions weren’t coming from there.

    At 8:30 Sherry called. I almost didn’t answer—until I remembered her promise to break down my door if I didn’t. I picked up the bedroom phone.

    “Hi.” My voice croaked.

    She gasped. “You sound terrible.”

    “Thanks.”

    “What’s wrong? Are you okay?”

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