Waking up badly bruised and lacking all memory of who she is, Ariel Gold searches through the home that she thinks is hers and, unwilling to trust anybody, improvises her own life while she tries to learn the truth.
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Judy Mercer is the author of four critically acclaimed thrillers featuring Ariel Gold -- Blind Spot, Fast Forward, Double Take and Split Image. She received a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Georgia, and has worked as a news reporter, disc jockey, advertising copywriter, advertising director, and freelance writer. She lives in Marin County, California, with her husband.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
It was the dream that woke her.
Her eyes snapped open for the seconds it took to know the sounds weren't real. No one was there. No one was crying.
She took a deep, uneven breath and buried her face under the pillow. Body relaxing, heart slowing to normal, she tried to recapture the dream. It was gone, leaving behind a feeling of acute anxiety, profound loneliness and the memory of someone weeping. So sad. So hopeless. So real.
So get over it, she thought.
She uncovered one eye. Hazy gray morning light seeped into the room from under closed curtains. In fact, in the dimness everything looked remarkably hazy. Kicking off the covers, she swung her feet onto the floor and sat up, feeling heavy, sluggish, drugged. She peered absently into the mirror opposite the bed. And saw nothing but a blur.
She frowned, squeezed her eyes shut and tried again. A blur. Perplexed, she stood and crossed slowly to the mirror. She leaned close. The face grew clear.
Except that it wasn't her face.
The woman who stared back looked as panicked as she felt. Mouth open. Eyes wide. Face drained of color except for an ugly blotch of bruised purple. She raised her hand to her cheek. The mirrored hand mimicked hers exactly. She spun to look behind her. There was no one there. She looked wildly around the room. It was a blur, it was a mess, it was a room she'd never seen before in her life.
And then she heard the noise.
Scratching. Loud, erratic scratching. It was the sound of claws gouging into wood, and it was coming from somewhere outside the room. Her scalp prickled. The image of a rat, a very big rat, leaped into her mind.
She groped around the end of the bed, her legs jelly, the blood that was pounding in her ears almost drowning out the rasping noise. She went toward the door, pulling up the heavy flannel granny gown that tangled around her legs, some part of her mind registering that she didn't own such a gown. She peered through the doorway. A long hall, as blurry as the bedroom, was empty.
She crept out. The scratching grew louder, more insistent. It seemed to come from behind a closed door at the end of the hallway. She inched her way to the door, stopped, reached for the knob. At that moment the door thumped heavily, reverberating in the frame as if something massive had been hurled against it. She stumbled backward just as the door crashed open, slamming against the wan, ricocheting back, swinging slowly open again.
The dog framed in the doorway was huge.
Ears back, hackles raised, teeth bared, he emitted a low growl as he gathered himself into a muscular crouch.
Obeying atavistic instinct, she remained absolutely immobile. She tried to murmur something placating. Nothing came out but a feeble keening. She tried again, managed foolish words. "Nice dog," she prayed. She swallowed, repeated it. And again, a mantra, over and over, having no idea what she was saying.
Amazingly, it seemed to work.
The dog, a German shepherd, had cocked his big head to one side, listening. His ears were up, his hackles down. He took a step toward her. She went rigid. He smelled her hands, her knees, her feet. Then he backed up, looking confused. He sank onto his stomach, made a peculiar whining sound and dropped his head onto his paws.
Her legs gave way. Slowly, she slid down the wall, keeping her eyes glued to the dog, resuming her incantation. Her knees splayed as she collapsed to the floor. The words poured out, dozens of words, cajoling, nonsensical words, edging toward hysteria.
"Good dog," she soothed, "You're a good dog. So big. So good. Yes, I know. You won't hurt me. No, you won't. Don't be afraid. See, I'm not afraid. I'm a nice person. I like dogs. I like you. I like dogs. I've always liked -- "
She stopped. Whimpered. Her heart seemed to stop altogether as realization hit. She didn't know if she liked dogs or not. She didn't know if she owned a dog -- or a cat. Or a gerbil. She didn't know if she was a nice person. She didn't know who the hell she was.
Copyright © 1995 by Judy Mercer
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