The Unseen

CHAPTER ONE

The hall ahead is dark, a tunnel of black.

She is in bare feet, wearing just a T-shirt, her steps slow and reluctant on the polished hardwood floor.

The warm Southern California breeze breathes through gauzy curtains at the windows, wafting the fragrance of night-blooming jasmine … but the smell is cloying, gagging, and dread rolls like black waves around her as she approaches the door, their door.

The sounds are louder, now … the grunts and moans are like physical blows. She wants to scream, wants to run … and she can’t breathe, can’t breathe, something is wrapped around her chest like a vise.

In the night outside, a dog breaks into hysterical yapping; somewhere far away a siren wails. Beside her, the Art Deco clock on the wall clicks to 3:33. She steps past the ghost of her own reflection in the large gold-framed mirror … takes a jerking step forward into the doorway.

And stops, sways at the sight—

They are in the bed, their bed, Matt and—

I don’t even know her name, what’s her name?

Tracey.

She can hear their breathing, Tracey’s soft moans, Matt groaning, “Baby … oh baby …” She can smell them, feel their frantic writhing—Matt’s quickening thrusts, Tracey’s legs flexing and tightening around his thighs …

Every move, every thrust, every sigh, is like being stabbed, all over her body. She can feel the jabs, feel the blood pouring from her flesh, the coppery stink of blood … she is wrapped in barbed wire and it is tightening, tightening… . Matt and Tracey cry out together on the bed… .

Inside her mind, she is screaming, her cries echoing against the walls …

Please … please no …

And behind her, the mirror shatters… .

Laurel awoke with a shuddering gasp, felt her heart pounding crazily against the mattress, shaking the bed. The room around her was blindingly sunny, white and high-ceilinged, with crown molding and a ceiling fan.

Ceiling fan???

Where am I???

She lay against the pillows in total disorientation, waiting for the dream to subside, to regain some kind of reality.

Then she sat up slowly, in the bedroom of her house in—her mind scrambled briefly for it—Durham, North Carolina.

She had been there for three weeks and four days, after living all thirty-one years of her life in California.

And she had moved in a blind rush of escape, after finding her fiancé in bed with his graduate assistant, in exactly the scenario she had dreamed, down to the very last detail.

She swung her feet out of bed and stood, reached for a robe, avoiding looking at the mirror on the wall.

She belted the robe around her as she walked out into the hall, past the door of the spare bedroom with its unopened moving boxes stacked against the walls, and down the stairs of her house—her house!—her feet bare on the cool of the polished wood stairs, her left hand gliding down the satiny curve of railing. So different from the right-angled, modern condo in West Hollywood, with its recessed lighting and skylights, and stainless steel, granite-countered kitchen.

And that’s the point, isn’t it? I’m as far away as I could get.

The dream had followed, and it never felt like dreaming; it was always the same, like walking into the living past, into a parallel world that existed intact and constant, with her trauma captured, her silent screams echoing forever on the walls.

But it was less frequent, and she no longer awoke from it with barbed-wire welts in her flesh. That’s some kind of progress, right?

It was the dream that had told Laurel that Matt was cheating on her. She’d jolted awake in her Santa Barbara hotel,