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Chapter 1 - In the Memory House
Kelsey hated the club.
She hated the noise, the sweat-slicked men bumping and grabbing and oozing all over her. She hated the way the throbbing beat worked into her brain, and how she woke the morning after a dancing with the beat still pounding in her blood. She knew these were things a fit, attractive, twenty-seven-year-old woman was supposed to like.
But she didn’t.
She went to Tremors with Brit and Caitlin because she didn’t want to be alone, not after the dreams came back. Jared had haunted her dreams for the past week, Jared and the dead man with no blood. Even during waking hours, if Kelsey closed her eyes, the puckered-white flesh of the dead man’s gashes blinked in her memory. It haunted her more than the wreck, but Jared’s disappearance and the dull ached it caused weighed more than the dead man.
Nearly five years later, and the dreams were as bad as they’d ever been.
Even though she hated it, the club banished demons better than graduate studies ever had—much better than Human Lifespan Development or Principles of Testing and Measurement. A PhD in psychology seemed rather meaningless after what happened in the house. The world felt rather purposeless after Jared vanished without a trace.
“Hey, Kels? Where are you?” Brit asked. She’d been Kelsey’s friend since high school and still wore her dark hair past shoulder length. Kelsey had always thought of Brit—short for Brittany—as pretty, but in a vaguely Eastern European and mysterious way.
“Sorry,” Kelsey said. “Sorry… Just thinking.”
Brit flashed her news-desk-perfect teeth. “You need more booze, girlie.” She pushed a plastic cup filled with bright green liquid across the table. “This isn’t the time for thinking. It’s the time for drinking and getting stupid.”
Kelsey looked at the cup. The drink, whatever it was, glowed like radioactive Kool-Aid in a bad science fiction movie. Her eyebrows rose.
“Chill out. It’s a Midori Sour. Tastes like a Jolly Rancher but numbs the worry center.” Brit’s forefinger tapped her temple. “You’ve got way too much on your brain, sweetie. I don’t know why you’d want to stuff your pretty little head with all that psychobabble anyway.”
“It’s not that.”
Brit nodded. “Right.”
She shook her hair, and long black strands flopped over her shoulders. Her eyes—almost as dark as her hair—drilled through bone, mining Kelsey’s secret thoughts. At least Kelsey felt she was. They’d been friends for a long time, true, but Brit hadn’t gone on the ski trip. Brit hadn’t clutched the door handle in Johnny’s SUV while the vehicle spun out of control and landed in a ditch. She hadn’t felt the brutal, numbing cold from the snow, the endless white blanket which plagued them to the porch, which forced them inside. She wasn’t the one to find the dead man, wrists splayed open in his bathtub. She didn’t lose Jared.
“Earth to Kelsey. I’ve lost you again. Go on and take a drink.”
Kelsey touched the cold plastic cup. She brought it to her lips and took a drink. The alcohol was cool and sweet and sour as it washed over her tongue. It warmed her chest as it slid down her throat. Maybe she did need to loosen up and get, as Brit so eloquently said, stupid. Maybe she needed to bury the past and try and forget Jared, forget the house, and forget the dead man. Just dreams… Dreams and bad memories. She closed her eyes and took another sip. It did taste a bit like a Jolly Rancher.
“Watermelon,” Kelsey said.
Kelsey smiled. “I like. Let’s dance.”
Bodies shook and cavorted on the dance floor, all awash with flashing lights. Throbbing music—a pop tune with relentless, pounding beat—swayed arms and legs in unison. Kelsey followed Brit to an empty corner, and both joined the frenzy. Kelsey’s eyes roved the crowd. Even at twenty-seven, she was toward the upper age limit at Tremors. Some faces looked like children—a few might have been students from the abnormal psychology lecture for which she was the teaching assistant.
Three men—boys, Kelsey thought—in matching silver silk shirts made their way through the crowded dance floor. Each carried a plastic cup and faux-danced so as not to spill. Sweat slicked their faces so each sparkled under the bright, flickering lights. Kelsey watched them as she shuffled her feet. Some malaise and inhibition sloughed from her skin as she let the beat take her body. She hated the club, but Brit was right about one thing. She needed to let loose, get stupid. She hated the club, but dancing felt good.
She leaned close to Brit. “Those three are on the move. I think they’re looking for wounded members of the herd.”
Brit laughed. “The lead is cute. Kind of. But his nose.” She scowled and shook her head so her hair spun from side to side.
“It’s huge,” Kelsey said.
“You know what they say about boys with big noses.” Brit ran her hands down her body, rolling her eyes in mock ecstasy.
As they both laughed, Caitlin, the shortest of the three, joined them. Kelsey felt Caitlin had the best body, busty but lithe with just enough ass to shake. Her blue eyes were monstrous, near Anime size, and hair in dirty blonde ropes offered a sweet, innocent disguise. Caitlin was always happy and Kelsey a little jealous.
“I thought I’d lost you two.”
The music shifted. The three silver-shirted boys danced toward them.
“I’m taking a break,” Kelsey said.
“Me too. I need another drink.” Brit grabbed Caitlin by the wrist.
“What?” Caitlin’s alcohol-slick eyes were on the boys in silver.
“We don’t want to lose you to the wolf pack.”
The three friends skirted to the crowded dance floor’s edge. Caitlin craned her neck to watch the boys in silver. Kelsey fell into her chair, suddenly feeling very tired.
“You two want anything? Another Midori Sour?”
Kelsey shook her head. “I’m good, thanks.”
“I could use another screwdriver.” Caitlin held out her half-empty glass. “Pretty please.”
Brit rolled her eyes and headed for the bar.
Caitlin pulled her glass to her lips. Kelsey grabbed her forearm before she took a drink.
“You don’t want to do that.”
“I don’t?” Caitlin pouted. “Why not?”
“You left it at the table. Anybody could have slipped something in there.”
“Oh my God.” Caitlin snorted. “You are such a mother, Kels. Lighten up.” Caitlin pulled her arm away, and a little liquid sloshed from the glass as the lights went out over the table.
“We hoped you ladies would have stayed on the dance floor.”
It was the nose, the leader of the silver-shirted wolf pack. His buddies grinned at either shoulder. Up close, his nose was big, ridiculously big, and Kelsey couldn’t stifle a giggle when she remembered what Brit suggested about boys with big noses. Big noses mean big…
“Some of us would have,” Caitlin said. She wrapped her tongue around the tiny black straw in her glass.
Kelsey rolled her eyes. She let her gaze stray across the room and fall on a tall man near the entrance. A flare burst in her memory. Johnny. She hadn’t seen him in almost five years, not since graduation, but it was him. His tall, cut features gave him away. Several years hadn’t changed anything about his face, his sleek, angular cheekbones and firm chin. Kelsey could almost feel his blue eyes, even across a dim club filled with people. He wasn’t dancing, just standing near the wall, almost like he was waiting for someone. Maybe looking for someone. Kelsey’s stomach knotted.
“…and our unit ships out at month’s end.”
Kelsey snapped back to her immediate vicinity. “What? Are you trying that old line? C’mon, boys. Really?”
Big nose blinked hard at the word boys.
Caitlin kicked Kelsey’s leg under the table.
“Whatever.” Big Nose frowned. “I can see you’re not interested. We were talking to your friend.”
Brit returned balancing three drinks in her hands. She read the look on Kelsey’s face. “Looks like I’m missing the party.”
Kelsey glanced at Johnny again. The dance floor lights flashed red and blue and white. “I was just leaving.” She climbed from her chair. Big Nose looked her up and down as she stood, and the two baboons at his shoulders did the same. She hated feeling dirty when a greasy boy eyed her like a cut of meat. She wanted a shower, to clean off the slime he’d heaped on her.
“Not bad,” he said.
Kelsey’s fingers curled into a fist at her side. “Fuck off.” She started to walk away.
He grabbed her wrist. “You wish, honey.”
Kelsey yanked her arm from his grasp. The flight across the club blurred in her head along with the music’s pound and her feet against the floor. She heard Brit’s voice bark her name twice, “Kels—Kels.” Shapes shifted and contorted, silhouettes of people, cardboard cutouts. Her head spun. By the time she worked her way across the room, Johnny was gone.