Sam had lost all sense of time as she sat against the wall, knees to her chest. Before her was Kathy’s bed and on it her foster mother lying motionless. On the opposite wall, written in Kathy’s blood was the name LEXI.
What engulfed Sam now was an all pervasive-numbness. An absence of thought or emotion.
You’re in shock.
At some point, Sam’s phone had begun to ring. She simply sat in that same position, oblivious to anything but that body and that name.
Cutting through the cold detachment was a sense that the name Lexi was, in fact, Sam’s real name. Nothing more, at least not yet, but the certainty existed that the name Lexi belonged to her. Somehow, Sam knew this with the same conviction that she knew that the sky was blue and the earth was round. It was simply truth.
Memory flashes strobed within Sam’s mind then: running, terrified, a beast closing in behind her—as these thoughts sped through her brain they were accompanied by a sharp pain, like a thick needle being shoved through Sam’s skull. She grasped her head and shut her eyes and over several long seconds the pain, along with the memory, subsided.
Her phone continued to ring as Sam returned to staring at the body and the name on the wall.
How had Kronin known about the name? And why… why had he killed Kathy to deliver that message?
I love you. I love you, I love you, and I’m so sorry. This is my fault.
So where to go from here? This was reality. Kathy was dead. Elias was dead. There would be no turning back the clock; so what was to be done? Nothing to be done now but to uncover the truth. That, and to balance the scales. To pay it back, as she had promised Elias at his grave.
Sam looked at the caller ID on her cell phone. It read BARNES. She hit answer and held the phone to her ear without saying anything.
“Do you still want to know why?” Kronin asked.
“You’re dead,” Sam answered.
The voice went on: “Now that you have a name, do you remember? No? It is not so easy, not after what they did to you. That is nothing compared to what I will do. But first, you will remember. Everything. Every detail.”
“You’re dead,” Sam said again.
“There is a farm,” Kronin said. “in Baker’s Field, Ohio. 1212 Calder Vale. The travel will take you three days. Three days, to arrive at the truth. Three days, to mourn your false mother.”
“You’re dead,” Sam repeated.
“Wishing will not make it so,” Kronin said and ended the call.
Once Sam had made up her mind, things moved very quickly. The toughest thing had been leaving her cat, Mister Perkins, not knowing if she would ever see the faithful feline again. Her neighbor, Miss Beatty, had shown a fondness for Perky on the few occasions she had visited Sam or come over to borrow one thing or another. Miss Beatty had been confused when Sam dropped off Mister Perkins and asked for the older lady to care for her, only saying that a family emergency was drawing her away—but the less Miss Beatty knew, the better.
Sam withdrew the last of her savings and left Blackrock an hour later, knowing full well that she was basically making herself a fugitive. She confronted this knowledge with the same cold blankness with which she responded to Kathy’s death. It was, simply, the state of things. Her being an outlaw simply didn’t matter. Not now, not anymore.
That woman… the woman who had wanted so badly to be a police officer, who was that woman anyway? Sam didn’t know.
Twice during her journey she pulled in and slept for a few hours at rest stops. She ate mostly drive-through fast food and drank mostly water, and she repeatedly flexed her right hand and squeezed the steering wheel, slowly regaining the ability to close her fist.
On the morning of the third day the GPS on Sam’s phone brought her at last to Baker’s Field Ohio. Another hour’s drive on back-country roads led finally to Calder Vale. It was a two-lane stretch of blacktop with woods to either side at first, and later, wide open, expansive fields.
After a few more miles she spotted the weed-infested acreage and the broken down farmhouse that sat far back along a rutted dirt road. She pulled up the long driveway, pulling to a stop out front of the structure, gazing out: it was an old farmhouse, two story, though the entire upper half of the home was gone. Four walls remained on the lower floor but not much else: the entire place had been gutted. There were remains of other structures as well: the ruins of a barn and what may have been a small woodshed. Sam shut her eyes as the searing pain from earlier lanced through her skull once again. It lasted for several seconds before fading, leaving behind a dull ache. Sam’s temples throbbed.
She pulled the Mustang over to where the driveway ended next to the structure, what had probably been at one time the carport.
Exiting the vehicle, she walked up the front steps and through a wide gaping entrance into what remained of the home. Most of the inner walls were gone. Stepping through the debris she worked her way to the corner of the house, where dirt-caked stairs led down.
Sam descended, past one turn and down into a stuffy, stale space that was once a daylight basement. The glass in the windows was gone, the room empty and desolate but…
A memory overtook her: of being in this basement, sitting on the floor… she was doing something: going through a box…
The sharpest pain yet burned in the innermost recesses of her brain. Sam clutched both sides of her head, forcing herself not to scream. Again the agony receded but again it left a powerful ache.
Sam climbed back up the steps. When she emerged, she stepped through the rubble to the rear of the house, through a doorway with no door and down short steps.
She stood there, looking straight ahead, thinking that there used to be a structure of some kind there, but not knowing how she should know that. Something like a big shed or garage… putting her palm to her throbbing head she walked around to the side of the home…
Here was a giant tree, an old hickory. Sam walked past and stopped. Rusty nails stuck out from the trunk in intervals running up its length. Staring up where the branches fanned out above, Sam saw a few rotted boards, the remains of a treehouse.
And then it hit her like a thunderbolt: the dream, in the hospital, where she had chased the little girl into the chapel. “Look at the bottom of the old Hickory,” that girl had said. “You’ll find it there. Buried.”
Sam looked around. There was a pile of rusty farm equipment several feet away. She hurried to it, looking down at the oxidized metal. Among the junk was what looked like an old tiller blade. It was scoop-shaped. Sam picked it up and rushed back to the tree. She chose a spot about a foot out from the base, out front of where the treehouse ladder had once been.
She knelt down and began digging into the soft earth. Within a few minutes she had worked up a sweat. gazing up, Sam noted that the sun was still not directly above. Not yet noon, nevertheless Sam’s stomach grumbled. She put thoughts of food aside and returned to her task, shoveling out dirt. This is crazy, she thought. Doing this because of some dream? Odds are there’s nothing—
And then her blade struck something. Something solid. Frowning, she reached in and pushed away the soil from an old wooden box. Removing it carefully, she sat back, put the box on the unearthed dirt before her, and opened the lid.
Inside was a necklace. A silver heart pendant on a thin silver chain. That necklace…
The sight of it triggered a wrecking ball inside her brain. Sam shut her eyes as the world around her spun. The walls within her mind were crumbling, the pain receding and then, suddenly, the dam broke and the memories of that night returned to her in a flood.