Between Sleep and Awake
Part I: A Step Away From Reality
My eye had swollen shut. I could feel my blood thudding through the wound like a drummer at a rock concert.
How did I get here?
Scanning the room, I could see very little. Glimmers of light, revealing the presence of a small window not six feet above my head.
It covered the aperture. Slits between the opaque gray strips gave way to a dull glow. It did not fill the room. I wish it had. Fear and anxiety quickened my thoughts, sped my pulse up, tormented my imagination.
What was that sound? My chest tightened.
A stale bust of air came up beside my head. I could feel my hair lifting into the air like little soldiers standing at attention, searching for any signs of life. My cheek lay on the cold concrete surface. The coolness felt good on my face. Within seconds, however, I could feel my face warming from the forced air heat and the THUD-THUD-THUD growing louder in my achy head.
I tried desperately to adjust my one good eye to the darkness. I cursed my circumstances. I cursed the fact that I had once again found myself in a situation where I was weak and helpless.
Blindly, my fingers examined the wound on my face. The stinging sensation let me know the approximate shape and size of the abrasion.
Abrasion. Ha. That's litotes if I'd ever heard it.
The gap was at least 3/4 of an inch wide. The length extended from my maxilla to my eyebrow. No wonder I couldn't see anything.
Had I suffered a concussion?
There are seventeen cranial sutures. Each placed under one of three categories. I named and spelled each, placing each in their relative category and sighed with relief when I came to the final letter.
Recitation had its benefits. At least I knew I had my wits about me. That much I could do. An eyesight check would be useless in the dark.
Senseless? Not completely.
I moved to stand, but quickly found my leg was glued in place. My fingers hiked to the hem of my blue jeans. Cold. Hard. Metal, most likely. Attached to a metal chain.
My finger tips traveled the steel road to the base of the concrete wall. Chained like an animal. Like a bear in a trap.
Laying on the cold concrete like a damp rag doll, my mind found its way back to cases we'd worked together. Kidnapping cases, particularly one. A woman. A young woman. Bound, beaten, laying on her side for days on rough concrete, her side being eaten away by disease and infection.
I didn't like the images that found their way into my brain. I shivered at the memory. No, I hadn't actually been there with the woman, but I knew how she felt. The pain in her side. I felt my own hip joint aching. Her shoulder hurt. Mine ached, too.
I quickly retrained my thoughts, but despite my best efforts, they wound their way back to Booth. Back to death and murder. Back to the case we were working only yesterday. Six women, at various stages of decomposition. Kidnapped. Ransomed. Murdered.
I wondered if I would end up at the dump site just like the rest of them.
I rolled into a supine position, the back of my head laying on the concrete, my eye exploring the ceiling. Looking at the duct tape, I imagined that the glowing shapes created from the gaps in the duct tape were stars. Some were triangular. Some were octagonal. Some were rectangular. Most were random quadrilaterals.
For what seemed like hours, I drifted in and out of consciousness. My mind never focused on escape. It never begged for freedom. I almost seemed at ease in my enclosure.
Boredom set in. I took that as a good sign. Not many people in captivity would find themselves bored. Even the self deprecating sense of angst had left me. How had it left me, I mused? The door was locked. The one little window above me was closed. Through the ventilation shaft, I reasoned. Perhaps my fear hadn't grown to such a ridiculous size that it couldn't fit through that three by six opening? Another good sign, I smirked.
I watched the window. What was it? At least 12 by 24. Could I fit my hips through that hole? My head? My bust? Probably.
Another good sign. I chuckled. Oh, G-d, I was losing it. At least with insanity, one can leave their fears behind. The stars disappeared behind a hazy black cloud.
I woke up again.
My eye socket continued its rhythmic pounding. I realized I hadn't heard a thing in hours. The lack of sunlight, moonlight, the works, made it difficult to tell how much time had passed. I guessed five hours.
As I calculated how much time had passed, the world grew dark once again.
Thirst. An overwhelming feeling of thirst. My mouth felt like the Gobe Desert. Minus the sand. My tongue ran over my teeth. Plus the plaque. Why can't a girl get a good toothbrush and toothpaste when she's being held captive? Whoever these people are, they certainly weren't going to be the next Hilton. I couldn't help but to wonder if my partner would have found my joke amusing.
I could almost picture that look of concern in his eyes as he inspected my wounded cheek and eye. He could really be nurturing sometimes. It could be endearing. It could also be infuriating. I preferred to think of it as endearing, as long as he didn't know about it.
As I drifted into a restless sleep state, terrible, wonderful dreams plagued me. Dreams of macaroni dinners, diner moments, apprentices, incomplete skeletons, silver screws, stolen glances, memories of my mother.
My stomach began twisting in my abdomen, rearing back and wrenching its jaws into its side. When was the last time I'd eaten? I couldn't remember. Well, in all honesty, I simply did not know. Time and darkness played tricks on me. The irony. Was it time for dinner, lunch, or breakfast? I guessed breakfast. My stomach protested, so I turned my thoughts to other things.
I remembered sitting at that table. His chestnut eyes staring back at me. I'd looked back in them several times before. Brown, people said. His license even said it. They were not brown. Brown, specks of green, flecks of gold. Brown was a gross understatement. That was like saying a prism is clear. Prisms are NOT clear. Pinks, blues, reds, oranges, yellows, greens sparkle from its hearth.
My imagination was playing games with my mind once again. Running away like a hyena with its catch.
My fingers traced the chain, piecing together a picture in my mind's eye. The shape of a keyhole. Fat at the base, narrow at the top like hallow lollipop. I jerked at the lock.
CLICK! THUD-THUD-THUD... CLINK!
I imagined the world turning their heads in my direction. Could the mystery perpetrator be listening in? Taking notes? Plotting my demise? I pulled harder.
Digging my grave? I put my back into it.
Gathering together lime and plastic trash bags? I strained my whole body.
CLINK! Nothing. CLINK! Was it useless?
I stopped. My chest heaving as my diaphragm pulled the musty air into my lungs.
With my head feeling heavy once again, like a sandbags piling up, creating a barrier against a torrential flood, I began to feel faint. Was I feverish? I could feel the heat rising from my collar as if someone had poured hot asphalt down my blouse. Drops of hot tar must have splattered my cheek, because the throbbing was becoming unbearable. My eyelids felt weighed down and finally pushed out what little light I could see.
* * *
The memories came quickly. Ephemeral. Like silvery snow flakes tumbling from hot breath. Sweet, fast, slow.
I walked through the J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building. I heard my heals clicking lightly on the tile floor. I saw his office coming into focus. I saw myself walking at the same time that I could see the office grow larger in my sight.
Two familiar faces. One belonging to my partner. The other belonging to a man whose name was fleeting. I had the feeling that we had met before.
He smiled and at first I felt distrustful, but my partner's warm eyes calmed my nerves.
Consciousness was as easy to catch as a feather in the wind. I blinked hard. Harder.
How had I gotten here in the first place? My memories were dull and ethereal at first. Twisting and turning in the room like I was watching Fantasia at twelve years old again. The dullness quickly drifted away as my eyelids grew thicker. One with exhaustion. The other with pus and other things I didn't care to think about. I tried to force myself to stay conscious, but my body refused and I found myself reliving Sunday all over again.
I tumbled. Falling over leaves and broken boughs, finally landing in a pit of decaying cadavers. The stench. Hot. Sweet. Stomach-curdling.
His lips touched mine and I only wanted him closer.
Cold porcelain against my cheek.
500 count Egyptian cotton sheets that weren't mine.
Corpses on bitterly cold stainless steel.
A knife. Rough bricks. Penetrating ice-cold lake water.
Tide with Bleach. Bleach has such an indefinable odor. So pungent, always clinging, claiming its presence long after the water had been rinsed away. Resplendent sunshine trickled through the curtains and on the inside of my eyelids, although I refused to open them at first, the bright red color of my own blood coursing through them shook me into a more wakeful mood.
Monday. What is it about Mondays that always keep us from wanting to begin our week? The only limb I allowed movement was my arm with which I tossed the blanket aside, effectively disturbing my perfect cocoon of warmth.
I lowered my feet onto blood-red carpet. Or was it really blood? Hot and oozing between my toes. Coagulating like cottage cheese, seeping like blood can only do.
The shower washed my thoughts away. The faucet was turned up high, just a shade under scorching. A few degrees away from stripping my flesh and rinsing it away down the drain.
Adrenaline still coursed through my veins, causing my hands to shake uncontrollably. Nightmares were never uncommon for me. Thoughts of death, blood, and more recently, evil in the form of the malignant and villainous human being always danced around in my subconscious, causing my mind to wander to places I wish I could only escape from. There was my escape. In the white-hot liquid rippling over my nude body, pouring away my fear, my anxiety, my truth.
I closed my eyes, soaking in the baptismal. How ironic that baptisms are meant to wash away sins, but this particular ritual bathed away my demons.
A flash of light. Voices whispering. I quickly opened them once again and shut off the water, running from the room in which my succubus had remanifested itself.
This time cold tile met my feet and I followed the vibrating sound of my cell phone against my night stand, not bothering to cover my nakedness with a robe.
As the night stand came into view, so did a tall oak. Old and venerable from years of weathering rain and storms. Six foot snow drifts. Leaves that crunched beneath my feet, echoing in a deep vibrato against my tympanum.
I knelt against the oak, leaning one gloved hand against its ancient trunk. After stabilizing myself, I studied the skull which had sunk into the mire. Black mud had crept up the cranium. White bone was yellowed and cracked. Summer, autumn, winter, spring and summer again. The cycle of seasons, dust, decay, cold, hot, rainy, snowy, had all left little of this victim. Missing mandible, shattered parietal. Fragments and shards littered the soil. I pushed away decayed leaves, revealing more shards, half covered in mud. Sticking up from the soil like crooked nails in a four-by-four.
"Female," I told Booth. "Early thirties."
"Ship it all to the Jeffersonian? Just like old times," he grinned at me, patting my back and flashing me that disturbingly sexy smile. Was he trying to make me feel guilty for leaving or glad to have returned? Either way, I smiled back at him, then turned my face back to the remains before me. I spotted what I thought was the mandible and dug my forefinger into the muck, tracing the horseshoe outline just enough to decide that yes, this was my missing bone.
Yellow tape at 90 degree angles, pegs, brushes that were frustratingly small. Fingers that felt stiff as bones from the freezing autumn temperatures exposing my skin to the biting cold.
Eventually, every last bone was released, placed along with extra soil into the evidence bags. Everything was accounted for. With the exception of a femur.
I walked through the forest, shifting leaves left and right. Kicking aside fallen boughs. I tumbled. Falling over leaves and broken boughs, finally landing in a pit of decaying cadavers. The stench. Hot. Sweet. Stomach-curdling scents that stung my nostrils. Despite being accustomed to that smell, laying among the dead when you are one of the living is something that will throw your tolerance level far to the left of center.
"Bones!" He shuffled down the little hill, mud thickening at his shoes, not caring for a moment how much they cost, despite the fact that his feet were quickly filling with questionable fluids. A hand to help a partner. Then an exchange of bewildered fear. Deathly silence.
"What the hell is going on here?" He whispered. And I wondered the same thing.
I gripped the cool porcelain and heaved until I felt that my eyes would fall from my head, then bob in the water like some macabre Halloween game. Slimy chunks of whatever had once gone down now hit the water with a puissant force, back-splashing some of the contents onto my forehead and making the process repeat itself once again. Then my cheek was back against the cold tile, easing the throbbing of my head. My job had taken the phrase, 'a day at the office' to a new level.
The duct tape stars glittered a resplendent pattern on the floor. I watched it. The full moon outside of the small window above my head let very little of the quiescent light fall on the lifeless concrete floor.