Page 1 of Don't Look Back

Chapter one

I didn’t recognize the name on the street sign. Nothing about the rural road looked familiar or friendly. Tall, imposing trees and overgrown weeds choked the front of the dilapidated home. Windows were boarded up. There was a gaping hole where the front door had been. I shivered, wanting to be far away from here...wherever here was.

Walking felt harder than it should be, and I stumbled off the chilly asphalt, wincing as sharp gravel dug into my feet.

My bare feet?

I stopped and looked down. Chipped pink nail polish peeked through the dirt...and blood. Mud caked the legs of my pants, leaving the hems stiff. It made sense, seeing as how I wasn’t wearing any shoes, but the blood...I didn’t understand why there was blood staining the knees of my jeans.

My vision clouded and dulled, as if a gray film had been dropped over my eyes. As I stared at the weathered asphalt under my feet, large, smooth rocks replaced the tiny stones. Something dark and oily seeped over the rocks, slipping through the cracks.

Sucking in a sharp gasp, I blinked and the image was gone.

Hands trembling, I raised them. They were covered with dirt and scratches. My nails were broken, bloodied. A silver ring, encased in soil, wrapped around my thumb. Air froze in my chest as my gaze crawled over my arms. The sleeves of my sweater were torn, revealing pale flesh covered in bruises and gashes. My legs started to shake as I swayed forward. I tried to remember how this had happened, but my head was empty—a black void where nothing existed.

A car drove by, coasting to a stop a few feet in front of me. Somewhere in the trenches of my subconscious, I recognized the flashing red and blue lights as a source of safety. Elegantly scrawled along the black-and-gray side of the cruiser were the words ADAMS COUNTY SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT.

Adams County? A flash of familiarity came and went.

The driver’s door opened, and a deputy stepped out. He said something into the radio on his shoulder before he looked at me.

“Miss?” He started around the cruiser, taking tentative steps. He looked young for a deputy. Being barely out of high school and able to carry a gun seemed wrong somehow. Was I in high school? I didn’t know. “We’ve received some calls into dispatch concerning you,” he said gently. “Are you okay?”

I tried to respond, but only a hoarse squeak came out. Clearing my throat, I winced as the motion scratched and pulled. “I...I don’t know.”

“Okay.” The deputy held up his hands as he approached me, as if I were a skittish deer about to bolt. “My name is Deputy Rhode. I’m here to help you. Do you know what you’re doing out here?”

“No.” Knots formed in my belly. I didn’t even know where here was.

His smile strained. “What’s your name?”

My name? Everyone knew their name, but as I stared at the deputy, I couldn’t answer his question. The knots started twisting more. “I don’t...I don’t know what my name is.”

He blinked, and the smile was completely gone. “You don’t remember anything?”

I tried again, concentrating on the empty space between my ears. That was how it felt. And I knew that wasn’t good. My eyes started to tear up.

“Miss, it’s okay. We’ll get you taken care of.” He reached out, lightly taking hold of my arm. “We’ll get this sorted.”

Deputy Rhode led me around the back of his cruiser. I didn’t want to sit behind the Plexiglas. Only bad people sat behind the glass in police cruisers. I knew that much. I wanted to object, but before I could say anything, he settled me into the seat and wrapped a coarse blanket around my shoulders.

Before he locked me in the bad part of the car, he knelt and smiled reassuringly. “Everything’s going to be okay.”

But I knew he was lying, trying to make me feel better. It didn’t work. How could everything be okay when I didn’t know my own name?

I didn’t know my name, but I knew I hated hospitals. They were cold and sterile, smelling like disinfectant and desperation. Deputy Rhode left me once the doctors started a battery of tests. My pupils were checked, X-rays were done, and my blood was taken. The nurses bandaged the side of my head and cleaned the numerous wounds. They’d given me a private room, hooking me up to an IV that pumped “fluids that will help you feel better” into me, and left.

A nurse eventually wheeled in a cart laden with a set of ominous-looking instruments and a camera. Why was there a camera?

She silently bagged my clothes after giving me a scratchy hospital gown to change into. She smiled when she looked at me, just as the deputy had. False and well practiced.

I learned I didn’t like those kinds of smiles. They gave me the creeps.

“We need to do some more tests on you while the X-rays are being run, sweetie.” She gently pushed my shoulders down on the hard mattress. “We also need to take some pictures of your injuries.”

Staring at the white ceiling, I found it hard to pull enough air into my lungs. It was even worse when she made me scoot down. A surge of embarrassment shocked me. This is so awkward. My breath caught. That thought wasn’t from now, but before...before what?

“Relax, sweetie.” The nurse moved to stand beside the cart. “The police are contacting neighboring counties for missing person reports. They’ll find your family soon.” She picked up something long and thin that gleamed under the bright, impersonal light.

After a couple of minutes, tears streaked my cheeks. The nurse seemed used to it because she did her thing and left without saying another word. I curled up under the thin blanket, pulling my knees to my chest. I stayed like that, with my empty thoughts, until I fell asleep.

I dreamed of falling—falling endlessly into the darkness, over and over again. There were screams—shrill sounds that raised the tiny hairs on my body—and then nothing but a soft, lulling sound I found comforting.

Upon waking the following morning, I decided to start small. What was my name? I had to have one, but there was nothing I could grasp on to. Rolling onto my back, I yelped as the IV pulled on my hand. Beside me, there was a plastic cup of water. I sat up slowly and grabbed the cup. It shook in my hand, sloshing water over the blanket.

Water—there was something about water. Dark, oily water.

The door opened, and the nurse entered with the doctor who’d examined me the night before. I liked him. His smile was genuine, fatherly. “Do you remember my name?” When I didn’t answer immediately, his smile didn’t falter. “I’m Dr. Weston. I just want to ask you a few questions.”