CHAPTER ONE: An Abandoned Vehicle, Fall 1987
The girl awoke with a scream in her throat, a scream that echoed through the tiny chamber and threatened to deafen her. When the scream died, she squirmed in the confined space, trying to get her bearings. Her wrists were tied in front of her and it felt like she was lying on corrugated metal. She could smell gasoline, an almost overpowering scent, and it was stifling hot. She was also as nude as the day she’d been born. She couldn’t see, her eyes were crusted shut, but she could feel, and she knew what nude felt like.
Oh, Goddess, where am I? She thought.
She tried to sit up and hit her head on the roof hard enough stars bounced behind her eyes. She sank back and moaned, feeling terror rising in her belly. When the pain subsided, she used her forearm to clean the crust from her eyes. When she opened them, she could see there was a little light coming from cracks along the roof edge. In the gloom she could see that her arms and small breasts were covered in dried blood and the crust she’d felt on her face was more; it flaked off every time she moved. The fear and panic she was fighting threatened to overwhelm her and a sob slipped through her lips. She sank back and grit her teeth, fighting down her fear. Losing her mind wasn’t going to get her out of this.
She took several deep, cleansing breaths through her mouth. When the butterflies settled down she sat up as best she could and looked at the binding around her wrists. It was a plastic tie, the kind used to wiring together, only thicker. She tested it and found it was tight enough she couldn’t wriggle out. But in the dim light she could see a sharp edge of metal pushing out of the wall or her small prison, a place where it was gouged and torn. She pressed her wrists to it and began to saw at the plastic. The metal bit deep into her flesh and she felt fresh blood running down her arms but she pushed the pain away. If she didn’t get free, she was going to die in the heat. A little pain was better than certain death.
The plastic strap popped, freeing her hands, and she gasped as circulation returned to her ragged fingers. She massaged them as best she could, sending flakes of dried blood flying about her prison. When she could feel, she began exploring. It took her only a few moments to determine she was in the trunk of a car. She could feel what were undoubtedly the roof hinges and the metal below her sloshed slightly when she moved; she was lying on top of the fuel tank.
The car wasn’t moving, she felt certain she would have felt a bump or something in the road if it were, which meant she just had to pop the trunk and she’d be free. She was fumbling for a tool or anything that might force the lock when she heard a scratching noise near her head. She turned and stared in horror at the wall. Had her kidnapper returned?
Her groping fingers closed around a screwdriver and she held it like a knife, prepared to defend herself as best she could. A moment later the lid creaked open and a shadow loomed over her, his features obscured by the bright sun behind him. The girl lashed out with the screwdriver and the figure jumped back in surprise.
“Hey! Easy, kid! I’m with the police. You’re safe, just put the screwdriver down, okay?”
She looked at him and blinked, clearing the last of the blood from her eyes. The man swam into focus, revealing a tall, somewhat portly police officer dressed in a blue and black uniform. A jagged stripe of blood was soaking through his shirt where she’d slashed him with her screwdriver. Beyond him were several other people, all watching with a mixture of awe and pity.
She dropped the screwdriver, wrapped her arms around her torso and felt tears roll down her cheeks. The officer stepped forward and lifted her from the confines of the trunk.
“It’s okay,” he said.
He turned and raised his voice, “Call an ambulance and somebody get me some water, she’s burning up!”
The girl was carried to the shade of a building and gentle hands wrapped a blanket around her naked body.
“I’m Officer Phoenix, what’s your name?”
She blinked at him and tried to respond, but nothing came out. She looked away and held her head in her hands.
Phoenix knelt in front of her. “What’s wrong? Can’t you talk? Just tell me your name, I’m sure your parents are worried sick. I’ll get them on the phone and they can meet us at the hospital.”
She looked at him. “I don’t know!”
Phoenix blinked. “You don’t know your name?”
She shook her head. “No! Oh God, who am I?”
The panic came flooding back and light began to fade. She could hear Phoenix talking as she gasped for air, but he was so far away. Her chest was tight, her hands were shaking and she was so frightened her teeth were chattering. She blinked at him, tried to respond, and sank into unconsciousness.
She awoke to the scents of chlorine, ammonia and blood. The scents kicked something in her hindbrain, not so much a memory as an emotion: terror. She was more afraid of those scents than anything she’d ever encountered before. She opened bleary eyes and focused on a fluorescent light fixture over her head. The ceiling was made from speckled acoustic tile that had been painted a sort of eggshell color. It faded into light blue walls at the edge of her vision, which was obscured by a bank of machines beeping to each other like robots in a bad movie. She turned her head and the fear was replaced with relief. Officer Phoenix was dozing in the chair beside her. His hat was in his lap and he’d left his notepad on the tray next to her bed. The girl picked it up and focused on the page he’d left open. His handwriting was more scrawl than cursive, but she was able to make it out.
“Cadence Jasmine,” she read aloud.
Phoenix sat up with a snort and began fumbling in his shirt pocket. “That’s what it says on the photo we found in the Chrysler. I think it’s a pretty name, myself.”
He placed a sun-warped photo on the tray beside her bed. Cadence picked it up and held it between her bandaged fingers as if it was a delicate flower. Her hands were still tender and bloody, she didn’t want to get any goop on the image. The photo was of her; a tall girl with violet eyes, pink-streaked blonde hair and a shy smile. She was wearing a denim jacket and a pink shirt, standing next to a street sign that said Cadence Lane. On the back was written “Cadence Jasmin, Oct’ 85” in masculine script.
“CJ,” she said after a moment.
“I’m sorry?” Phoenix asked.
Cadence couldn’t take her eyes off the photo. “CJ. That’s what everyone calls me.”
She couldn’t remember where the picture was taken, or why. But she remembered seeing the sign and someone demanding she get back in the car. But who or why, she didn’t know.
Phoenix sat on the bed beside her and set his hat on the tray. “Do you remember?”
Cadence shook her head. “No. Flashes. Nothing much, I just remember they called me CJ.”
“It will come back, in time.”
Dr. Lee stood in the door, his bald head haloed by the light outside. “Your scan shows minor trauma, you’ve a concussion and retrograde amnesia. I daresay you will remember more as the swelling goes down, amnesia is rarely permanent.”
He entered and looked down at Cadence. His eyes were warm and caring, something she wasn’t used to seeing in doctors.
“How are you feeling today?” He asked.
Cadence shrugged. “Okay for someone who doesn’t know who she is. The nurse says I’m healing fast.”
Lee nodded. “Indeed you are. Your dislocated shoulder and the cuts in your back are doing well and she reported you have full range of motion in your fingers. May I see?”
Cadence put the photo down and flexed her bandaged fingers. Blood seeped into the bandages, but she was able to move them even through the thick gauze. Lee checked them, running his own long, slender fingers over the bandages.
“I’m impressed, but also concerned about the bleeding. You should have scabbed over by now,” he said. “May I?”
Cadence nodded reluctantly and Lee unwrapped her left hand. The hand itself looked normal; the blood and scratches were gone. Her fingertips, however, were still red, bloody and raw. Lee was careful not to touch them; instead he raised his glasses and bent to look at the tissue.
“Remarkable! Cadence, your fingers are healing, but not normally.”
“What does that mean?” Cadence asked with a touch of fear.
Lee opened a fresh box of gauze and began wrapping it around her hand. “Normally, with wounds like yours, stitches are necessary and the wound scars over in a few weeks. Full feeling returns in six months to a year. In your case, the wound is healing around the stitches instead of scabbing and much faster than I would have expected. I daresay you will have full sensation once healed.”
Cadence winced as he bandaged them and looked at Phoenix. “I think I already have full feeling.”
“I’m sorry, CJ. It needs to be tight,” Lee replied.
“What else do you know, doc?” Phoenix asked.
Lee looked at him and Cadence saw the doubt in his eyes. “Nothing much, I’m afraid. The scars on her back and arms are several years old, the tattoo on her right arm is fresh, only a few days, I would guess. She’s lucky it didn’t get infected, with all she’s endured.”
“That’s something. I’ll check with tattoo shops in the area and see if anyone recognizes her photo,” Phoenix said. “Someone has to have a record of tattooing a minor, especially something that extensive.”
“I sent a sample of her blood for testing, but so far, nothing. And you? What pieces of the puzzle have you found, Officer Phoenix?”
“We can talk about it outside,” Phoenix replied with a glance at Cadence.
“Officer, it’s okay. I want to know who I am,” Cadence said.
Phoenix looked at her. “Are you sure?”
Cadence nodded. “Yeah. Right now all I know is I’m a girl named Cadence who is fourteen or fifteen years old. I don’t even have a last name. I’m sure I have parents somewhere looking for me, anything you know might help me remember who they are.”
Phoenix sighed. “I’m sorry, kid, it isn’t good. There is no record of anyone named Cadence missing anywhere in the United States. There are dozens of missing girls that match your overall appearance, but none with a matching photo. The department is running you through the system just in case but we’re a small department and don’t have the resources of larger towns. My captain alerted the FBI but so far, nothing. You’re a mystery.”
He picked up his notebook and flipped through the pages. “The car you were found in is a 1978 Chrysler last registered in Utah. The owner passed away in 1983 and nobody admits to seeing the car or you before someone heard you screaming and called the police. The interior was wiped down, no prints, no trace evidence, not even footprints around the car.”
Lee finished bandaging her hand and Cadence flexed her fingers. “Could I have done this to myself somehow? I mean, if there is no other answer…”
Phoenix patted her leg. “No way, kiddo. You’d have left blood on the outside of the car, and footprints. Somebody did this to you and I promise I will find out who it was.”
He stood and put his hat on. “I have to get back to it, I’ll check on you later. Doc? Got a sec?”
Lee patted Cadence’s shoulder. “All will be well, CJ. Give it time.”
Cadence settled back into her bed and stared at the ceiling. She hadn’t told the whole truth. She did remember a little. She could see a woman, older, with grey hair and green eyes that held nothing. No emotion, no sense of humanity, just blankness. She was holding up flashcards and asking “What do you see, Cadence?” Over and over in an unfamiliar accent.
She closed her eyes and tried to think of something else. Whoever the woman was, she wasn’t pleasant and Cadence hadn’t liked her, even a little bit.
When she slept, her dreams were filled with ghosts crawling in the night.
Four months later…
It was snowing outside Blackwolf High School in the small town of Lobo, NM. Cadence watched it fall with half an ear on what Miss McKay was saying in her math lecture. She couldn’t remember ever seeing snow, but it felt old. It was like she’d seen snow, been out in it, but hadn’t really seen it the way she was seeing it now. It was beautiful and clean, somehow. A fresh start, perfect for the upcoming winter break.
“Miss Phoenix, are you paying attention?”
Cadence blinked and looked at the teacher. “Not really, its snowing.”
“Bet the freak’s never seen snow.”
That was Tommy Wilson, a redheaded boy who would have been kind of cute if he wasn’t always busy making other people miserable. He was half turned in his chair, staring right at her with malevolence in his eyes.
“So what if I haven’t?” Cadence asked.
“That’s enough, Tommy,” Miss McKay said.
Tommy turned in his chair to face the board, then looked back over his shoulder. “Fucking freak.”
“Bite me, Wilson,” Cadence replied.
Miss McKay slapped the board with her ruler. “I said enough. One more word, Tommy, and you’ll be spending the Christmas holiday cleaning the basement, am I clear?”
Tommy sat sullenly in his chair and folded his arms. “Yes, ma’am.”
Cadence focused on Miss McKay and tried to get interested in the lesson. Miss McKay was an older woman, perhaps fifty, with greying brown hair she kept in a bun and cat-eye glasses attached to a chain. Today, like most days, she was dressed in slim fitting pants tucked into boots, a loose blouse and a looser cardigan with a questionable flower print. Comfortable, serviceable clothing. Today the lecture was advanced algebra, and the board was covered with equations that Cadence could answer without really trying. Miss McKay had learned the hard way that Cadence had a knack for math when she’d corrected equations on the last exam.
Cadence glanced at the young woman beside her. Her name was Nikki, she was a fifteen year old beauty with long black hair, blue eyes and a ready smile. Today she was dressed in acid washed jeans, an off- shoulder tee and white boots with fringe on the back. It was an adorable outfit, the kind she always wore. Cadence had fallen for her the first week she’d been in school. They shared almost all the same classes and Nikki was just one of the nicest people she’d ever met. She’d made a new school feel like home, with her easy smile and nerd-girl friendliness.
“What?” Cadence replied in the same soft voice.
“Dad rented Star Wars, want to come see it with me?”
Cadence frowned. “What’s Star Wars?”
It sounded like something Reagan was cooking up and she imagined flying space-chairs with lasers and nuclear missiles shooting at each other with Earth in the background.
Nikki hid a giggle behind her hand. “You really are a dork. It’s a movie, want to come over?”
“Miss Bennet, would you like to share with the class?” Miss McKay asked.
Nikki grinned and snapped her gum with her tongue before answering. “I invited CJ over to play house while my dad is on plow duty.”
Cadence blushed and sank deeper into her chair while the class laughed and Miss McKay blushed.
“This is hardly the place for that, Miss Bennet,” she said, straightening glasses that were already straight and looking away. She was saved from saying anything else by the bell, which rang out like a four alarm fire and made her jump.
Cadence gathered her books and purse from under her desk and joined Nikki on her way out the door.
“I can’t believe you said that,” she said in a hushed voice.
Nikki spun and walked backwards, holding her books to her chest. “Why? Ceej, everyone knows we’re a couple, and nobody really cares. This isn’t bumble fuck, where they burn lezzies at the stake, this is Lobo, home of Wolf Pride.”
“Lezzies rule!” Tyler added on his way to his locker. “You ladies going to kiss in public any time soon? Because rawr.”
Cadence rolled her eyes. “You wish, Perve.”
Tyler Watson was a friend, a fellow gamer and member of their local D&D group. Short and stocky with wild black hair and what he thought was a pencil-thin mustache staining his lip, he was cute. For a boy.
“You love me cause I’m a perve, Ceej,” Tyler replied.
“We love you cause you have game space. We on this weekend?” Nikki asked.
Tyler opened his locker and was showered with candy wrappers that he ignored. “Yep, snagged a new adventure yesterday, should be awesome.”
“Oh look, the freaks are planning a party!”
Tommy pushed his way through the crowd and bellied up to Tyler, using his superior height and weight to push the other boy back. “Whatcha playing, freak? Nerds and Dorks again with the dykes?”
“Back off, Tommy,” Tyler said, pushing back with little effect.
“Or what?” Tommy asked, shoving Tyler into the wall. Tyler fell off balance and almost tumbled into his locker.
Cadence grabbed Tommy and pushed him into the lockers hard enough to bend steel. “Leave him alone, Tommy. Pick on someone your own size.”
Tommy shrugged her off and looked at Tyler. “Got to have a girl save your fat ass, Tyler? You little pussy.”
“That’s strike three,” Cadence growled. She punched him in the stomach and tripped him so he fell flat on his back with a loud thump. While he struggled for breath, she squatted beside him.
“Leave me and my friends alone, are we clear?” she said in a casual tone.
“Miss Phoenix, what’s going on here?” A new voice asked.
“Nothing, Mr. Craig, Tommy tripped,” Tyler said.
Cadence extended Tommy a hand. “I was just helping him up, Mr. Craig.”
Tommy glared at her hand and helped himself up, still fighting for breath.
“Is this true, Tom?” Mr. Craig stepped into view, a balding middle-aged man with horn-rimmed glasses and a tweed sport coat over his sweater vest and dress shirt. You’d never guess he was the physical education teacher.
“Yes sir, I tripped, Phoenix was just helping me up,” Tommy replied.
Mr. Craig didn’t look convinced. “Miss Phoenix, if you’ve been fighting again−”
“She wasn’t, sir,” Nikki piped up. “Tommy tripped over Tyler, Ceej was just trying to help Captain Clumsy back to his feet.”
“Fine. Better hurry to your buses, the streets are getting slippery,” Mr. Craig said.
He gave Cadence one last glare then hurried away, no doubt to flirt with Mrs. Proctor, the school librarian. Cadence watched him go then looked at Tommy.
“Are we done?”
“Yeah, we’re done,” Tommy replied. He hefted his backpack and walked away, still favoring his wounded stomach. “Freak.”
Tyler finished stuffing his locker and retrieved his pack. “You didn’t have to hit him.”
Cadence opened her own locker, with its picture of her at the end of Cadence Road and collection of comic books. “Yeah, I did. Tommy is a jerk, Tyler, you don’t have to put up with bullying.”
She stuffed what she affectionately called her ‘gaming crap’ into her backpack and hefted it over her shoulder.
“Now everyone is going to think I’m a wuss,” Tyler replied, slamming his locker shut.
Cadence looked at him. He looked angry and scared, she’d tarnished his . “No, they won’t. Tommy is a bully and a jerk, everyone with half a brain knows it. Nobody will think less of you because I hit him. Tommy bothers me as much as anyone.”
Nikki put her arms around both their shoulders. “Besides, would you rather CJ let Tommy wipe the floor with you? Come on, lighten up, guys, its Christmas!”
She kissed both their cheeks and the trio wandered down the hallway into the snow. Buses were pulling out of the lot, heading down the mountain toward the town of Lobo, home to four thousand souls. It was snowing, not a heavy storm but enough that the street was covered, as were the cars in the lot behind the school. Cadence stopped beside the blue 1966 Mustang Phoenix had given her and unlocked the driver door. She propped the back seat up for Tyler then slid across and opened the passenger door for Nikki, who dropped into the passenger seat with a happy sigh and rested her foot against the dashboard.
“I can’t wait to get home and put some music on,” she said.
Cadence started the engine and closed her own door. “What you call music isn’t music.”
Nikki feigned being affronted. “Michael is the King−”
“Of crap,” Tyler and Cadence said in unison.
“You’re both just jealous,” Nikki grumbled. Her smile said she was teasing as much as they were.