Repressed deadly secrets, p.22
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       Repressed (Deadly Secrets), p.22
 

          
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  “My bedroom.”

  “That’s good. Is your bedroom quiet? Is anyone else with you?”

  “Yes, it’s quiet. I’m alone.”

  “Do you feel safe there?”

  She nodded.

  “Safe is good. I want you to think about how you feel right now, safe, warm, no fears. If you start to feel anxious, I want you to think back to this bedroom, okay?”

  She nodded again.

  “Good, now what does your bedroom look like?”

  “Purple walls. A pink bedspread. My dolls are all over the floor. Mommy gets so upset when I don’t pick up my toys.”

  “What time is it, Samantha? Can you tell?”

  “Late. I’m supposed to be asleep. But they’re fighting again.”

  “Who?”

  “Mommy and Daddy. They don’t think I can hear them.”

  “What are they arguing about?”

  “That woman, the one who used to be at the school. Mommy doesn’t like her.”

  “Why not?”

  “Because she teases the boys. And because she’s back.”

  “Back from where?”

  “I don’t know, but she’s back.” Her eyes tightened. “I don’t want to listen to them fight anymore.”

  “No, you don’t have to. What are you going to do instead?”

  “I opened my bedroom window and climbed down the tree.”

  “There’s a tree?”

  “Yes. A great big oak. It’s perfect for sneaking in and out.”

  “Do you sneak out through the window a lot, Samantha?”

  “No. But sometimes.”

  “Is it warm or cold outside?”

  “Cold.” She shivered. “My sweatshirt’s too thin. It rained today.”

  “Where are you going?”

  “Into the woods. Rebecca’s waiting for me.”

  “Who’s Rebecca?”

  “My doll. She doesn’t like the dark. I have to get her.”

  “Did you leave her somewhere?”

  Sam bit her lip and nodded. “In the clubhouse. I don’t want the boys to find her. They pull her hair and throw her around. They’re not nice to her.”

  “Are the boys at the clubhouse now, Samantha?”

  She shook her head. “No. It’s too late now.”

  “Do they always go to the clubhouse with you?”

  “No. They climb trees and play war in the woods. Sometimes they go to the waterfall to swim. But it’s too cold for that tonight.”

  Her brow wrinkled, and she tipped her head to the side.

  “What’s wrong, Samantha?”

  “There’s . . . there’s someone in the clubhouse.”

  “How do you know?”

  “There’s a light. And I can hear voices.”

  “How many voices. Can you tell?”

  “I don’t know. Three? Maybe more.”

  “Tell me what the voices are saying, Samantha.”

  “I . . . I can’t hear them. I’m too far away.”

  “Can you move closer?”

  “I can’t. I . . . ” Her vision sharpened until the forest was all around her, and she jerked back. “Oh no.”

  And as Sam looked through the dark trees toward the glow coming from the small cabin, she covered her ears with her hands and screamed.

  CHAPTER SIXTEEN

  “Dammit. Hold her still!” a man yells.

  Voices echo from the cabin. Sami’s pulse soars. She isn’t sure who screamed, them or her, but she has to look. She can’t go back without looking.

  Inching forward in the darkness, she eyes the run-down building as her heart pounds hard against her ribs. Shingles hang at odd angles. Dirt-covered panes of glass are cracked and broken. Shadows—monsters—dart back and forth behind the glass, breaking the steady stream of light, causing her heart rate to kick up harder in her chest.

  Go home. Run. Turn away. The words spin in her head, but she can’t go back because Rebecca’s in there. Rebecca doesn’t like to be alone. And Sami can’t sleep without Rebecca.

  She pushes shaking legs forward. Another scream rends the frigid night air. She jumps. Tingling fingers of panic race down her spine.

  “I said to hold her still!” the man hollers again.

  “I can’t,” someone else yells. This voice is younger than the first. It sounds like . . . like Seth’s friend Kenny. “She’s fighting.”

  “Let me go!” a female screams.

  “Teach her a lesson!” another girl says.

  A loud crack erupts, one that sounds like wood against wood, followed by a muffled sob.

  Sami knows those voices. She’s heard them before. Her stomach tightens as she presses her body to the side of the cabin and silently tries to figure out who’s in there.

  “Tie her arms down,” the first instructs. “Then we’ll teach her a lesson.”

  Footsteps sound. Then some kind of struggle. And a man says, “Son of a bitch! She bit me!”

  “Oh, you wanna play rough, huh?” Another loud crack slices through the air.

  Sami jerks back, and fear closes her throat.

  Go back . . . Go back . . .

  But she can’t go back. Because Rebecca is still in there. She needs to make sure they aren’t hurting Rebecca. Swallowing hard, she grips the window ledge and climbs with shaky movements onto the small pile of wood stacked outside.

  The glass is dirty. She can’t see through. Crouching lower, she peers through a hole in the pane.

  Only she doesn’t see Rebecca. She sees a woman with long dark hair and wide, frightened eyes. A woman she’s seen before. At the school where Seth goes.

  The woman is tied to a rusted bed frame and dirty mattress, naked. Blood stains her skin, and her makeup runs down her face in black tracks. And there are bruises on her skin. Nasty, angry bruises on her arms and legs and hips and ribs from things Sami doesn’t want to imagine.

  The woman sobs. “Please, just let me go. I won’t tell anyone.”

  “No, you won’t.” A man steps in front of the woman. Sami can’t see his face. Only his back. He’s tall. Dark hair. He looks like an athlete. Something about the way he moves is familiar . . .

  He loosens the belt from his waist and pulls it through the loops in his jeans. “Remember what we used this for?” he says to the woman. “Remember how much you liked it?”

  The woman’s eyes grow wide and frightened. She struggles against the ropes holding her down. To someone standing out of Sami’s view, the man says, “Untie her.”

  Two people, smaller than the man, rush over and untie the woman’s hands and legs from the rusted bed frame. She lunges to her feet. “You son of a bitch. I’ll kill you. I’ll kill you for this!”

  The man lifts his arm and strikes her with the leather belt. A crack echoes through the cabin. The woman stumbles back and hits the wall. The man drops the belt, jerks forward, and grabs her by the neck before she falls to the floor. Shoving her back to the wall, he sneers, “No, you won’t. You’re not going to do anything ever again. You wanted to be the whore? Well, you got to be her tonight. How does it feel to be used the same way you used all of us?”

  He grasps her throat with both hands. Lifts the woman so her feet dangle off the floor. The woman’s face pales. Her eyes fly wide. She scratches at his hold, but he doesn’t let go.

  Sami’s heart races. She knows she needs to run, but she can’t look away. He can’t hurt her. He said he was letting her go. He has to let her go . . .

  “Hey, man,” a panicked voice says from the shadows. “She can’t breathe. Let go of her.”

  Muscles flex in the man’s forearms, and he squeezes tighter. “No. She’s not going anywhere. She’s gonna pay for what she did. Aren’t you, Sandy?”

  His hands clench harder around her throat. Her eyes go bug wide. Her face turns red, then purple. She gasps and struggles, making a gargling sound.

  “You’re never going to torment another person in this town,” the man yells. “Do you hear me, bitch? Nev
er again!”

  Another body slams into the man, knocking him away from the woman. The two fall to the ground and roll across the dirty floorboards. Vaguely, Sami can hear someone yelling to stop, that it’s not right, that he didn’t agree to this, but all she can focus on is the woman lying still and unmoving on the ground. Her eyes wide and lifeless.

  “You fucking kid,” the man yells. In one quick movement, he shoves the smaller person off him and lurches to his feet.

  Sami’s leg shakes. She’s dead. The woman is dead. They killed her. They—

  She jerks back. Her foot slips on a log. Before she can stop herself, she crashes to the ground in a pile of wood.

  “What was that?” someone asks from inside the cabin.

  Oh no. Oh no. Oh no!

  “I don’t know,” another voice answers.

  “Son of a bitch,” the man growls. “You two, go check what that was while I deal with this one.” The voice turns menacing. “You wanna end up like her, son? Think long and hard, because I’m way past fucking around.”

  Footsteps boom across the cabin floor. Sami’s adrenaline spikes. She has to leave Rebecca. She can’t save her now. Tears choke her throat as pushes to her feet and runs.

  A low branch lashes her face. She cries out, stumbles over rocks in the path. Her body hits the ground with a thud. Stones stab into her knees, slash at her flesh. The ripe scent of earth fills her senses, but she scrambles to her feet and keeps running.

  She rounds a bend in the path, spots the lights from her house down the hill. Chokes back a sob, but safety is so close. She pushes forward. Strong arms close around her from behind, hauling her up off the ground.

  “No! Let me g—”

  A hand clamps over her mouth, muffling her words. She kicks out with everything she has, digs her fingernails into the soft flesh holding her tight, and flails.

  “Shh! Sami, stop fighting me, dammit!”

  Seth. That’s Seth’s voice. She slows her frantic struggling.

  He lowers her to the ground and grips her shoulders as he drops to his knees. “What are you doing out here?”

  “I . . . They . . . Rebecca . . . ” Tears fill her eyes as she looks past him, up the dark path. “She’s in there with them. I don’t want them to hurt her like they’re hurting that woman.”

  Seth whips around and looks up the dark path. “They’re there now? At the cabin? With her?” He shifts back to face Sami and grips her arms tighter. “Tell me. How many?”

  Sami swallows the hard lump in her throat. Seth’s familiar brown eyes look wild, and he’s holding her so tight her arms hurt. “I . . . I don’t know. I couldn’t tell.”

  Seth pushes to his feet. “Go home, Sami. Run. As hard as you can. And don’t come back up here. No matter what.”

  He lets go of her and takes a step up the path. Panic rushes in. Sami grips his hand to stop him. “You can’t go up there. Something bad will happen. I know it!”

  “Everything will be okay.” He squeezes her hand tightly in his much bigger one. “I promise. Now go home.”

  “No!”

  He disappears into the dark, leaving her cold and alone.

  Sami shivers. She wants to chase him. Needs to follow. But she’s scared. So scared she can barely move. Tears spill over her cheeks, track down her skin. An owl screeches above. Shivering, she backs into the brush and shakes.

  “Samantha.”

  She looks up through the tears. Wipes a hand across her nose. Hope rushes through her. Seth has come back. He wouldn’t leave her out here like this alone.

  “Samantha.”

  “Pull her out now!”

  But that frightened voice isn’t Seth’s. She ducks back into the brush. Shakes and squints to try to see clearer.

  “Samantha,” a gentle voice says from a great distance away. “Listen to the sound of my voice. I’m going to count backward from five. When I get to one, I want you to open your eyes. Five . . . four . . . ”

  No. She brushes the tears away with her forearm, peers through the trees toward the path. She wants Seth. She needs to find Seth. She has to go after him.

  “Three . . . ”

  “No!” Her hands clench into fists.

  “Two . . . ”

  “Come back!” she cries, pushing to her feet, but her legs don’t seem to be working. Why can’t she move her legs?

  “One . . . ”

  A loud snapping sound echoes close. Blackness descends, blocking out the shadowy woods, the smell of pine and earth, even the cool breeze.

  “Open your eyes, Samantha. That’s it. Deep breaths in and out. Remember your bedroom. Remember how safe you feel there.”

  Michael.

  Over the sound of her racing heartbeat, Sam could just make out the tick of a clock somewhere close.

  “Open your eyes, Samantha,” Michael said again.

  Her eyelids felt heavy. Her muscles like rocks. Drawing in several deep breaths, she focused on the soothing sounds of Michael’s voice, and blinked several times.

  “There you are.” Michael smiled. “Welcome back.”

  “I . . . ” Images plowed into her. Everything she’d just experienced. But one was stronger than all the rest.

  Seth.

  Her eyes snapped shut, and she groaned.

  “This was a bad idea,” Ethan said at her side. “We shouldn’t have done it. I told you she wasn’t strong enough for this tonight.”

  Dimly, she became aware of warmth covering her hand against the couch cushion and realized Ethan was holding on to her.

  She turned her hand over and squeezed his, needing the connection. Needing him.

  “A rush of emotion is normal after a session like this,” Michael said. “Samantha, you’re safe here. Nothing can hurt you. Can you tell us how you feel?”

  How she felt . . . She couldn’t tell them how she felt. Wasn’t even sure how she felt. All she knew was that she needed air. Needed a moment to think. Needed out.

  “I-I’m okay.”

  Her voice sounded scared and shaky. They had to hear it. Clearing her throat, she gently pulled her hand from Ethan’s and pushed off the couch.

  “Samantha.” Ethan stood, worry darkening his eyes.

  “I-I’m okay. Really. I think I need to get a drink and use the restroom.”

  Michael rose. “Can we get you anything?”

  She stepped toward the door. The cool wood on her bare feet felt solid, real. Something she could focus on. “No, thanks. I’m fine. I-I’ll be right back.”

  Hands shaking, she closed the bathroom door and stared at her reflection. Tears welled in her eyes, but she blinked them back. That was the last time she’d seen Seth. The same night he’d died. And it was the same night a woman had been murdered in that cabin.

  She pulled herself together as best she could and opened the door. The hallway was empty. On shaky legs, she moved back toward the office and paused outside the door when she heard Ethan’s tense voice.

  “We shouldn’t have done that.”

  “She’ll be fine, son,” Michael said.

  “You haven’t seen her in the throes of one of these nightmares. I have. This is just going to make them worse.”

  Sam stepped back into the room. Both men turned at the sound of her footsteps and looked toward her with expectant eyes. But Ethan’s were worried. And she knew she had to put him at ease.

  Crossing her arms, she moved to the desk and leaned back against the shiny surface. “It was Sandra Hollings.”

  “Are you sure?” Michael asked.

  “Yes. I saw her face.”

  “What about the others?” Michael asked.

  Sam rubbed a hand across her forehead. She didn’t want to remember, to even think about it, but she had to get it out. “I’m not sure. I couldn’t see them. Several were young. Teenagers, I think. And one man. But his back was to me. I’m not sure who he was.”

  “Think about the voices,” Michael said. “Were any familiar?”

  “Kenn
y. I heard Kenny’s voice.” Sam shook her head. “This morning, when he came after me, he was ranting about me being there. I . . . I didn’t know he was talking about this. About Hollings.” Her gaze drifted to Ethan. He stood near the couch, his muscles rigid, his arms at his sides. “Those remains we found weren’t far from that cabin. I was ten when all of this happened. I know people didn’t like her. I remember my parents arguing about her before she disappeared, but I never thought . . . ” She swallowed hard. “I didn’t think it would result in this.”

  Ethan’s jaw hardened, but he didn’t speak.

  “How do you know how old you were when she went missing?” Michael asked.

  Because I was ten when Seth died. Sam bit her lip, unable to say the words. Unable to think about Seth involved in any of this.

  “Because I was ten when I lost my doll,” she managed. “It was fall then. October. There was a full moon that night. I was worried we might get an early snowstorm. That’s why I went up to the cabin that night . . . to find my doll. I didn’t look for her again after that. Until tonight, I never really understood why I stopped searching for her. Now I do.”

  Michael and Ethan exchanged looks and something darkened in Ethan’s eyes, but Sam didn’t have the strength to guess what he was thinking. She just wanted to finish.

  “There was a girl there too. With Kenny and the others. Egging them on. I think it might have been Margaret, but I can’t be sure. The others, though . . . I didn’t get a clear look at them. I don’t know who they were.”

  “It’s okay, Samantha.” Michael squeezed her arm reassuringly. “If they were kids, you might never know. Voices change. You were talking to someone there at the end, though. Can you tell me who that was?”

  Yes, she knew. But she still couldn’t make her lips form his name no matter how much she wanted to, because his loss was like a knife to the heart, more painful now than it had ever been before.

  She shook her head.

  Michael eyed her for several long moments. Finally, he bent and pulled a small box from the bag at his feet. “Sleeping pills. These should help you tonight so long as you aren’t still taking any pain meds from the hospital.”

  “Thanks.”

  “Do you want to talk more about it now in detail?”

 
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