Kate woke with a gnawing in her stomach. It was going to happen again tonight. Since Annie died, she'd been afraid to go out. Now her computer was scaring her.
Maybe if she changed her routine, worked a while in the daytime instead of night, the images wouldn't return. She positioned her thermos of coffee next to the computer, on a little tray so it wouldn't mess up the desk. Aware of these compulsive routines every time she sat down at her work, offered comfort, keeping her safe.
"Rasputin. Where in the world..." Mealtimes went by when she forgot to eat, but she never forgot to feed and water her cat, mainly because he always lay within arm's length of wherever she was. He was no where in sight. How strange. Now that she thought of it, ever since the visions had started he hadn't lain in his special place. She'd check him out later, it was time to get to work.
Kate turned the computer on and loaded the spreadsheet program. That was what she had liked about the computer--until these visions appeared. Everything had to be done just so, no choices, no decisions, just the exact same routine every time she used it or it didn't work. She could put her thoughts on automatic pilot and let go. When she finished her work and e-mailed it to the businesses, they transferred money to her account. She never had to see anyone.
That was the way life should be. Otherwise it was like creeping through a long, dark hallway. If she didn't make a sound, didn't touch the walls, didn't scuff her feet, she might make it to the end without someone catching her--without that grab on the shoulder from behind. If she just stayed small, quiet, and invisible, she'd be safe. Kate wished this insight had come sooner. Maybe she could have protected her husband and daughter.
Once into her work, Kate let it take over her thoughts, losing herself in the spreadsheets, the comforting columns of figures lining up in obedient sequence. Hours must have passed. Her head jerked once or twice when she nearly dozed at the keyboard until a funny tingling sensation crept into her fingertips.
"Look at me. Look at me."
Reluctantly she looked at the screen, her throat tight with fear. The now-familiar golden fog swirled, mashing the words that had been on the monitor to a soft mist. She stared into the center, fascinated.
This time she saw a youth in a yard, sitting on the ground. She couldn't make out his face, but by the size and set of his shoulders, he was probably eleven or twelve. The same age Annie had been. He was crying, sobbing his heart out. No words came from him as she watched, hypnotized by the strangeness of the scene, relieved that the little girls hadn't shown up in their macabre parade.
Her fingers froze over the Escape key, wanting to touch it, get out, but she couldn't move.
The boy turned toward a tall redwood fence covered with vines just beginning to change to green from stringy wintry brown. Her eyes saw through his, saw what he saw, felt what he felt. A garden surrounded the boy. He hated the garden, which wasn't a sunny, happy place, but dank and shadowy. Her tidy nature cringed at the profligate waste of beauty. Lush landscape, overgrown with climbing roses, cried out for pruning and mowing. Everything was neglected, everything unkempt except...
His stare, with her captured inside, turned toward a soft swell of earth covered with grass, neatly trimmed. The mound reminded her of a grave site.
The boy continued to sob, tears running from his open eyes. An awareness came to her, with a sudden force, that he didn't want to look in that direction, but had to. Fear sent spasms to her empty stomach, and the skin tightened on the back of her neck, causing her to shiver and fold her arms across her chest in an effort to keep warm.
The boy's gaze shifted, like a camcorder zooming in close.
Shoes. Tiny shoes placed just so on the mound of green. Not pairs; the odd, unmatched presence of the single shoes made ominous whispers breathe up and down her skin, rippling the hairs on her arms.
One ... two ... buckle my shoe.
A red-checked tennis shoe, a black patent leather with a strap across the center, a ribbony bow on top, a little white sandal. Tears clouded her vision; his tears, not hers.
He didn't approach the shrine, for that's what it was, some kind of shrine. He sat and sobbed, as if he were an element of the scene, but yet not in it.