Saturday, February 29, 2020

Sneak Peek: HERE WITHOUT A TRACE



IT WOULD TAKE my entire Rock Hills High School volleyball team to stop my forward momentum and get me back into the hypnotist’s chair. But they’re not here. My screams drift in the air, shrill. And my terror. I hover off the floor like a resurrected ghost in a bad dream, unable to sit back down, unable to open my eyes.
“Hailey,” a familiar male voice croons, “I’m going to count down from ten and when I reach one you’ll open your eyes and feel rested and calm.”
Oh no I won’t. My heart is pounding, my body thrumming with frustration.
“You won’t remember what’s made you so afraid.”
But I will. No smooth-talking, pointy-nosed, over weight snake-charmer is going to wipe these images from my brain with a bit of trance-inducing meditation. The scent of stale smoke, strong mouthwash, and my own dried sweat swirl around, biting.
“Ten, nine, eight …”
My eyes roll back in my head and sharp fingernails scratch at invisible scabs.
“… seven, six, five …”
I can’t suck in enough air, but I feel the chair hard against my thighs. I’m sinking back, no longer hovering.
“… four, three, two, one.”
Nothing. Maybe I never was off the seat. The monotonous vibrations of a moment ago have ceased, vanished into uncomfortably thick air.

“How do you feel, Hailey?”
I open my eyes. I. Feel. Fine. The air thins out. The dark gray walls of the small office seem to take a step back. Dr. Cesar’s nose has plumped up and his wide frame looks less wide. He’s breathing through his mouth and I notice his minty breath. Still, there’s something that makes me not want to trust him anymore.
“I’m okay, I guess,” I lie. I’m a little confused. Like there’s something on the tip of my tongue that I want to say. Some flash of forgotten dream or something from a movie—a horror film—lingering behind my eyelids. Where did that anger go? I was angry, wasn’t I? I feel pretty chill now.
He rises and places two fingers on my wrist, looks at the sweeping second hand of the grandfather clock in his office, and announces, “Your pulse is perfect.”
The tick-tock of the clock is strangely loud. Wait, I wasn’t angry, I was afraid.
“This kind of therapy takes time, though,” the doctor says, sitting back down, adding cream and sugar to his voice in a way that creeps me out. “This isn’t like when you came to see me a couple years ago. What happened to your friend, well, it’s very unlikely that it would happen to you.”
“I … she … I don’t believe she was abducted.” I wipe at the tears that won’t leave me alone. Crap, I hate getting all emotional. Two seconds ago I woke up calm. Now this. If I’m not angry, I’m sad. When I’m not sad, I’m afraid. The sadness and the anger I can handle, but the fear … it’s never going to go away. It’s like I’m carrying a barrel of emotions and everyone is pouring theirs in it too.
“We’ll talk more about your friend next week.” Dr. Cesar rises again, a clear signal that this session is over. He pushes the Kleenex box in my direction, but I ignore it.
“Sure,” I say. “Okay, then, thanks Dr. Cesar. See you next week.” I fake a smile and pull my six foot bulky frame out of the chair, jerk my hand in an awkward wave and head for the door.
Grownups, they think they know everything. All those degrees posted on his wall proclaim his competency in this world, but I know something he doesn’t know and it scares the crap out of me: this isn’t the only world. I know where all the “without a trace” victims have gone. But my theory is so unbelievable that revealing it has made my parents put me back into counseling. And this time it includes hypnosis treatment.
Dr. Cesar listened to my disjointed hypothesis and dismissed it as thoroughly as if I were claiming an alien abduction … which I sort of did when I was fourteen. Anyway, I won’t mention my theory again to anyone other than Logan. He always has my back.
I have a lot to think about on my walk home. It’s one point four miles from office to house, an easy jog, but I need to take it slow, to have some time to come up with my next step, formulate the right goal. Make the right decision.
My phone beeps.
It’s Logan. “Hi.”
“How’d it go, Hailey?”
“I think he really hypnotized me. It was weird. Nothing like what happened the night Kara disappeared. This was more dream-like.” I stop at the corner, wait for the light and listen to Logan’s whistled breathing. I count in my head how many days it’s been since my second best friend, Kara Hess, went missing.
“So … did you meet any demon spirits while you were … under?”
The light changes and the blinking white walk signal beckons me across Pine Street. A blue Chevy inches around the corner, impatient for me to finish my crossing so he can make a right turn. I turtle-walk the last ten feet and answer Logan, “Nope. Hypnosis is all in your own mind. It was just me in there. Me and my memories and thoughts.” And a wall with a crack in it, but I don’t tell him that.
I step up on the curb and the Chevy rushes by. I turn left down the sidewalk toward my house. And Logan’s. He lives next door.
“What do we do then? Ignore it all? Just get on with our lives?”
Get on with our lives? His easy solution makes it seem like maybe he doesn’t really believe what I told him about that night.
“You know I can’t do that. Kara’s parents will never give up hope and neither will I. She’ll come back. I told you what I saw. I thought you believed me.” I get ticked at Logan pretty regularly; it’s the nature of our relationship.
“I believe that you believe it.”
I stop walking and squint at my feet. There are ants making a trail across the sidewalk. A line drawn. If I stay on this side it means I don’t tell Logan the rest of the story. If I cross it then I do.
“Hailey?”
“Yeah, I’m still here.” A less compassionate person would crush the ants.
“Where?”
“Near the corner, a couple blocks from our houses.” I wouldn’t hurt a flea; everyone knows that.
“I’ll meet you at the gazebo.”
“Okay.” We hang up. I’m still contemplating the ants’ line. If I step off the sidewalk and cut through the grass then I don’t have to make a decision yet.
I glance around. I must look like an idiot frozen to this square of concrete, unable to move. I take a step back. No, I have to tell Logan. What’s the worst he can do? Tell my parents to send me to a shrink? Been there, done that.
I take a long stride over the ants, crushing no one.
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