Houses smaller than her dollhouse, fields stretching out and away. A pond tossing sunrays as she leans against the window, nose pressed to the glass. The plane seat rumbles. She feels it in her fingertips, in her teeth.
Daddy points. "Look there."
And she sees it. Circle upon circle, living branches shaped like the inside of a seashell. Mesmerized, she follows the path with her eyes to the very center.
Daddy's voice holds all the mystery in the world. "It's a labyrinth."
* * *
Tessa opened her heavy-lidded eyes to white light, beige walls. For a moment she'd thought she was in— But no, it was the emergency room. She rotated her wrist and winced. Her neck burned, and she could almost feel the grip there still. She drew a ragged breath.
The nurse put a hand between her shoulder blades. "Let me help you up."
"Thank you." Tessa slid her legs over the side of the exam bed and sat up, woozy, as the curtain slid open with a squeal of metal rings on rod. A man with a hawkish face and wiry hair entered. Dr. Brinkley. She'd spoken with him ... how long ago?
"You've had some rest, Ms. Young?"
She pressed her fingers to her temples and realized that somewhere between arriving and now they had sedated her.
"Sheriff Thomas is back, if you're up to seeing him."
Her chest quaked as her mind replayed the knife flashing, Smith's stunned face. Would she have to identify him? Could she bear it? The sheriff entered, his pants and jacket shiny with rain.
"Is he ... is he dead?"
"We went over the property, Ms. Young. There's nothing to indicate a homicide."
She had a moment of disconnect. What was he saying? "You didn't find Smith?" Her throat constricted. "That's impossible."
"The rain's ruined what trace of an altercation there might have been."
She jolted. "Someone attacked us. He stabbed Smith."
"Someone not quite human."
"I didn't say he wasn't human, just grotesque, misshapen—"
"Pale and malformed, rotten teeth and milky eyes. Wasn't that the description?"
The description conjured up his image. "Yes. That's what I saw."
The sheriff slid out the pad he'd jotted her words on before. "Yours was the only vehicle."
She nodded. "I don't know how he got there, but it isn't the first time. I thought I saw him weeks ago."
"You said your boss was six-one, one-eighty. How would this small, malformed person with no transportation—"
"He must have hidden Smith, buried ... the body."
"We searched the field and surrounding woods." The sheriff looked her over slowly. "I'll round up some dogs in the morning, but before I do, why don't you tell me what really happened?"
She stared. "What do you mean?"
"It appears you had a scuffle, but frankly, your story is . . ." He spread his hands. "Not plausible."
Her panic rose. "It's not a story. I barely got away. Someone attacked us. He—" She fought the grief that raised the pitch of her voice. "Have you talked to Smith Chandler? Can you tell me he's alive?"
The sheriff narrowed his eyes. "I'm going to give you a while to come to grips with things, rethink your statement. Go home now, and we'll talk in the morning."
Dazed, she got up and went out, shivering, to the dark, wet street. Go home? She was so far from home it made her head spin. Before driving her rental car back to the inn some miles out of town, she would try once more to make the sheriff listen. She huddled under the covered entrance and speed-dialed her phone, needing someone to vouch for her, someone with credibility, to make them realize she could never imagine something like this.
"Dr. Brenner? I'm sorry to call so late, but I need you to talk to someone."
"Hello, Tessa. Would that someone be Sheriff Thomas?"
Her jaw dropped. "You spoke to him?"
"You listed me as your emergency contact, and he was concerned. He said you were hysterical and incoherent."
She brushed her hair back with shaky fingers. "Did he tell you why?"
"He told me what you said."
"You mean what happened."
The pause said too much. "Tessa, this ... experience. You do see the similarity to your dreams."
Her breath made a slow escape.
"All your classic elements—the maze, the fear of losing someone, abandonment. Even a monster."
"It's not a maze—it's a labyrinth. And I can tell the difference between dreams and reality." Her voice broke. "I saw someone stab Smith."
"As his rejection stabbed you?"
"I ... You can't think—"
"Listen to me, Tessa. It's possible the scenario you're describing is playing out like one of your dreams—or worse, that the real issues you've been dealing with have pushed you to a breaking point."
She started to shake. "Yes, I have dreams, terrible dreams. I also have a life. And I know the difference between what happens in my dreams and what happens in my life."
"To a soldier with PTSD, bombs landing on his home seem very real. The mind is a powerful thing."
She closed her eyes. "This is not in my mind."
"The condition can cause a person to overreact to a perceived threat or injury."
"What are you saying?"
"I want you to come back to Cedar Grove. Let me evaluate you ... before you're charged with a crime you may not have been able to control."
"You can't believe I would hurt Smith."
"I think it more likely you've broken with reality."
"What about that I'm telling the truth?"
His silence stung. She hung up and clutched the phone to her throat. Fear and dread loomed like monsters, but this was real. She knew it. Only . . .
With trembling fingers, she dialed another number.
Wet and shivering, Tessa dragged herself up the inn stairs to her room. She locked the door and window, dragged the wing chair over to the door and propped it beneath the knob. Enfolded by the soft yellow walls and cozy furnishings, she surrendered to the grief. Smith was gone, and the hurt overwhelmed her. Hurt and fear. Every creak, every muffled noise set her heart pounding. She tried to close her eyes, but the pale face and eyes of his murderer were etched on the back of her eyelids. She had not dreamed or imagined him.
Perhaps she dozed, for she followed endless paths in endless circles until the cold morning light woke her. She opened her eyes and sat up. The sedative had left her brain filmy. Had Dr. Brenner authorized or even prescribed the medication? She had been hysterical, running for her life after seeing Smith fall.
Pain came, as hard and relentless as the rain outside. She wished she could believe nothing had happened, but Smith would have answered her call if he could. She checked her watch. Last night she had collapsed in her clothes, but she tore them off now and changed into clean khakis and a T-shirt. Her wrist throbbed as she ran a brush through her hair and pulled it into a ponytail, impatient with each minute that kept her from answers.
At the station, she found Sheriff Thomas conferring with a deputy. The sheriff finished his bite of bagel, took a swig of coffee, and cleared his throat. "Too much rain to go out there, Ms. Young. Dogs won't pick up a scent, and the ground's been ruined for footprints." He wiped his mouth. "So why don't we get the real story, now that you're settled down."
"Smith Chandler was stabbed in the labyrinth field, just past the old foundation. I saw him fall. I saw him lying in the rain."
"Where's the knife? What did you do with the body?"
Her chest constricted. The red sags under the sheriff's eyes and his drooping jowls gave him the look of a bloodhound, but he was on the wrong scent.
"We searched everything, Ms. Young, including your weird crop circles or whatever you're cutting out there." Sheriff Thomas cleared the gruff edge from his throat. "This will go down so much better if you just come clean."
"I told you what happened."
He shook his head. "I'm going to find out. Until then, it's probably best you don't leave the county."
Returning to the inn, she closed herself into the room, anger rising. Dr. Brenner had fed the sheriff's suspicion instead of giving her credibility. So what if this event had connections to her dreams? She was a specialist in labyrinths. Her work always overlapped the subconscious elements that haunted her sleep.
She went and stood at the rain-streaked window. Could anyone truly believe she'd killed Smith? The thought that she may have had a psychotic break and imagined it all shook her, but if there was no body and no evidence of murder, then Smith was alive, somewhere. Oh, please—let it have all been in her head.