“What do you see?” Carleton asks,
“Shhh, give her a minute.” Comes Sandy’s harsh voice.
My eyes are closed: in one hand, I have a thumbtack hovering over a map of the state. In the other, I have a picture of the girl. She's got long blonde hair, bright green eyes and a wide smile. Alexis is her name, and she’s been missing for five weeks.
Then it comes in flashes.
Welcome to Northbrook, an Ash tree, a street sign, six, eight, nine, a blue house.
I’m taken to the basement, which has one long mirrored wall that reflects the room back onto itself. But it’s cold, and there’s a darkness hovering around me. It follows me as I move around the room.
My eyes fly open, and without having to think about it, I stick the thumbtack into the map.
“She’s in the basement of a blue house, six eight nine Ash Street in Northbrook.” Carleton writes as I speak.
“Did you see who took her?”
“Did you see her?” He asks me, I glance at Sandy who shakes her head no. “What is it?”
Sandy steps forward, “She’s been trained not to see or interact with the people she’s looking for,”
“Why?” Carleton asks, setting his pen down.
“Because sometimes the people can see her, and that gets very dangerous.” Sandy’s mouth settles into a thin line as if she’s daring Carleton to ask another question about it.
“Well, it doesn't really matter. What you’ve given us is more than enough to start. I’m going to alert the police,”
Behind Carleton’s desk, there’s a long mirror that shows the bald spot on top of his head. And I can see myself: grey eyes and long dark hair. High cheek bones with the scar on my right cheek and pale skin from years of living in the labs. Carleton stands up from his desk and reaches out to shake my hand, which I don’t take. Sometimes touching other people shows me things I don't want to see. Sandy takes it instead with a grim smile,
“I hope you find her. Come on Haley,” I follow her out and into the car that’s sitting outside Carleton’s office. He was hired as a private detective by Alexis’ parents after the police declared her a runaway.
“She was more difficult than usual,” I tell Sandy once we’re driving away. The sun has begun to set casting us in a warm glow.
“How do you mean?” She asks, her brow furrowed.
“I don’t know, it was just…dark.”
“Once we get back to the lab we’ll run some tests, make sure you’re okay.”
“Okay,” I sigh, that’s the opposite of what I want. The tests are horrible. They take my blood, spit, and hair. They stick wires to my head and induce visions. And once it’s all over, they send me back to my room alone and isolate me for 24 hours. In the concrete room with the wiry mattress.
I lean my head against the window, close my eyes, hoping that I can escape this life for a few minutes.
I dream about the first testing I remember.
I’m four, wearing a paper gown that falls to my ankles. Sandy is next to me with her clipboard and the doctor is kneeling in front of me, adjusting the last of the electrodes.
“Haley, now just close your eyes and think of this man. You’re gonna find him for us, okay?” The doctor leads me to a chair where I look closely at the picture of the man. He’s old with dark hair and a scar running from his left eye to his chin.
It happens almost instantly. My eyes are closed, and the images are flashing in my mind.
I see him, he’s sitting on a couch eating a sandwich. I take a step closer to him, and his head snaps up to meet my gaze. I freeze,
“Who the hell are you?” He screams, jumping up from the couch. He smashes his plate against the coffee table taking hold of a long shard and throws his arm out towards me. I feel a sting across my cheek and immediately start screaming.
There’s a rush in my stomach like I’m falling and when I open my eyes, I’m back in the lab room, Sandy is holding me trying to calm me down. There’s warm liquid on my face and when I feel my cheek, my hand comes away red.
I wake with a start, reflexively my hand goes to the scar on my cheek. We’ve pulled into the lab and a guard opens my door for me.
“Escort her to the labs, we need to run tests.”
“Yes, ma’am,” the guard says to Sandy with a nod of his head. He takes hold of my elbow and steers me down the hall towards the elevator, where we’ll descend to the basement.
The hospital gowns fit me now. It’s been thirteen years since that first testing, so I’ve gotten used to the chemical smell that hangs in the air.
“Almost done,” the technician says, watching the vial fill slowly with my dark blood. I’ve found the best way to get through these tests is just to watch myself in the one-way mirror. It keeps me focused, keeps me present.
“How’s my favorite patient?” The doctor asks waltzing in with Sandy, “I heard you’ve had a busy morning.” Sandy’s phone starts to ring,
“Oh, excuse me,” She steps out into the hall with the technician, leaving me with the doctor.
“Yeah, I tried to find a missing girl.”
“Sandy told me what you said, about it feeling off. We’re gonna test your blood now but everything else seems normal. Can you tell me more about that feeling?”
“I didn’t see her…Alexis, I mean. But looking for her was cold. Freezing almost. I felt shaky, and it was dark.”
“Was it nighttime?” He asked, his voice taking a condescending pitch. My eyes narrow,
“It wasn’t physically dark, it was just…I don’t know how to describe it.” I feel my face warm with embarrassment.
“That’s okay, we’re gonna get you in the next room, give you some people to find––”
Sandy rushes back in, “Doctor, excuse us, Haley that was Carleton. Alexis wasn’t where you said, they need you to try again.”
“Sandy, I think we need to test her before she tries again,”
“No offense, but this is a bit more important than your tests, doctor. Haley, get changed we’re meeting Carleton in Northbrook.”
* * * * *
“There you are, come on,” Carleton barks, marching over to Sandy and me. We’re standing outside the blue house I saw in my vision: 689 Ash Street. Police are crawling all over the police, and on the porch sits a man in handcuffs. He’s glaring at the officers roaming around,
“That’s our suspect,” Carleton says as if he could read my mind. I follow behind him and we head slowly to the basement. It’s a dark room with no windows but one wall opposite the stairway is covered in mirrors. It’s the same as in my vision.
“I don’t know why she isn’t here. This is exactly what I saw,” I tell him,
“It’s possible he’s moved her since then,” Carleton glances at Sandy cautiously before continuing, “I know you said that you don’t find the people directly. But, Haley, Alexis is just fifteen, she's a freshman in high school and just got her driving permit. Your minute of discomfort could save her life.” This girl has a life, something I never had. She probably has a big family that loves her and friends that adore her. She'll learn to drive and go to college and get married. How could I live with myself if I didn't try everything I could to find her?
“Absolutely not––” Sandy interjects,
“It’s okay, Sandy. I’ll do it,”
“Sandy, I'll be careful. I need her picture,” I tell Carleton and he immediately pulls it out of his pocket, “And silence,”
“Everyone, stop talking!” Carleton yells, and the room falls into silence. I take her picture and close my eyes.
I’m plunged back into the coldness, the darkness.
I can see myself and Carleton standing in the basement.
I’m pulled to a far corner of the basement, and in a second am thrown beneath the concrete.
That’s when I see her.
The skin around her face is translucent and pulled taut against her bones. Her green eyes are wide and frozen. Her hair is matted with blood and her mouth is open in a permanent scream.
But before I can leave, the cold takes over and envelops me. And I feel her lifeless, bony hands reaching out and grabbing me.
I feel the rush and pull myself back. The room is silent except for a surge of piercing screams.
“Haley, Haley!” Sandy cries, I stop realizing the screams were mine.
But something's not right. My body is achy and the hairs on my arms are raised in panic.
The darkness is still there, I can feel it settled around my shoulders like a weight. Watching me. My heart is pounding against my chest, and the cold has wrapped itself around me.
It feels like someone hovering right around me. Taking up the air I need to breathe.
“What did you see? Where is she, Haley?” Carleton pleads. I point to the corner of the room, where a swatch of new carpet sits,
“She’s buried under the floor," I manage to choke out, "She’s been dead for days, I'm so sorry,” Carleton’s face falls, and Sandy puts an arm around me, pulling me away from him. I hold back a sob, her eyes flash through my mind and a shiver runs down my spine.
“It’s okay, you tried your best.” We stand in front of the mirrored wall, and I watch in the reflection as some forensic scientists start swabbing the area. Then I look back to myself and have to stifle a scream.
Because it’s not my face I see staring back at me. It’s Alexis.