Close ContactBy: Lori Foster
MAXI OPENED HER eyes to a black velvet sky pierced with shimmering stars. A balmy breeze drifted over her skin. She frowned, her head aching horribly, her mouth as dry as cotton, her body heavy...every part of her hurt in one way or another. She stared at the sky, trying to make sense of it.
It took an extreme amount of effort, but she lifted up and winced at the sharp pain in her elbow and back. A strange sense of dread crawled over her.
What the hell? Gravel?
How was she on gravel? In dirt and clumps of dried grass... With her head now swimming and her stomach trying to revolt, she paused, closed her eyes and concentrated on not throwing up. When everything somewhat settled, she pried her eyes open again and slowly looked around.
Realization doused her in ice, followed by a wave of prickling heat.
Good God, she was outside, lying in a dry, rocky field.
Her heart rapped painfully hard, confusion gripping her so tightly that she couldn’t think. She didn’t know the time; she didn’t even know the day.
Where am I and why?
Past the confusion, expanding fear brought a sob up her throat. But sobbing would require sound, and she was too scared to make any noise.
Forcing her sluggish body to move, she shifted slightly and peered around. She recognized a tree, a fence... Okay, so she was on the farm that she’d inherited from her grandmother. The hard earth, dry from a long August drought, sent bristly weeds sticking into her skin.
She looked down at herself and recognized the sleep shirt and cutoff shorts she’d changed into after her shower. Each minuscule movement made her head throb in agony and sent acid burning through her stomach. She put a hand over her mouth to stave off the sickness.
Off to the side, something moved in the encircling darkness.
Frozen, her eyes wide in an effort to see, Maxi held her breath and waited. Another breeze moved the branches of the tree, allowing a splinter of moonlight to penetrate.
Yellow eyes came her way—and she realized it was a black cat strolling cautiously toward her.
Relief brought a rush of hot tears to her eyes. “Oh, baby, you scared me.” The cat, recognizing her voice, sat beside her. The moonlight slid away, but the cat’s yellow eyes remained visible, unblinking.
Because she needed to feel something real, Maxi pulled him into her lap and stroked his long back. “What am I doing out here?”
No answer. She heard only the rustling of the wind and a rumbling purr from the cat.
What should I do? How far away was she from the farmhouse? Trying to figure it out left her more frustrated. Tears spilled over to her cheeks and she dashed them away. Crying now wouldn’t help her.
She had to move.
With an effort, still clutching the cat, she got to her feet and turned a slow, clumsy circle. Once she moved away from the tree, the scant moonlight helped orient her. She was near the two-acre pond. Judging by the tall reeds that grew at the back of the pond, she needed to circle around to the dock, then go up the hill.
Tunnel vision distorted what the night didn’t hide, forcing her to feel her way in near blindness. It seemed every third step she found a rock or thistle that cut into her heel or tender arch. Once, she tripped and almost fell. She did drop the cat, but the dear thing didn’t leave her. In fact, she used him as a guide, following close behind as he meandered up the slight incline to the back porch. He, at least, had no problem seeing his way.
The house, dark inside and out, appeared as a looming gray structure that left her decidedly uneasy. She felt as if she approached danger rather than shelter.
The darkness didn’t make sense. She always left on the outside lights in the evening. A power outage? Maybe during a storm, but they hadn’t had one of those in a good long while.
Besides, an outage couldn’t explain why she’d awakened outside.
Nervousness and fear coalesced into real terror. While she gulped in the clear evening air, she belatedly realized why.
Someone did something to me.
How, she didn’t know. Thinking made her head hurt worse. She summoned only a vague memory of drinking a glass of wine on her sofa while reading a book. That had to have been hours ago. What had happened after that? Folding her arms around her stomach, she again fought the sickness.
Could there be an intruder in her house? Oh God, oh God, oh God.