Sample: The Tenth One

The black was its own invading force against Gypsi as she struggled to anchor her mind to her surroundings. Her fingers scraped against packed earth, dried leaves crunched beneath her hands, and a few wayward pebbles jostled her fingernails. Her last memory, fused with static, played erratically through her head.

Gypsi tried to open her eyes, but something barred her vision. She opened her mouth to speak, to cry out, but her throat was too raw and parched to permit any sound from escaping her lungs. She reached up to gingerly touch her eyes when something roughly yanked her arm away, expelling a faint squeak from her throat.

Gypsi felt her body jerked upward and she collided with a thick, coarsely covered surface. Another weak cry. Tears surfaced inside the barrier, and her head throbbed from being thrown against whatever her body landed on. Hot breath enveloped her ear, and she was instantly aware of another person. The surge of panic was blinding.

“Please….” Gypsi pleaded meekly and hoarsely.

“You should’ve left it alone,” the other voice sneered.

“Please….” she coughed on a sliver of saliva.

Her memories were beginning to untangle themselves. Clarity descended on a particular scene, and she suddenly saw a face.

“Oh my god…” a garbled half-whisper sealed her fate.

“You should’ve left it alone,” repeated the sneer, now choking on rage.

The last thought to escape before the black consumed her was that she would be gone before anyone knew she was missing.

————————————————————————————–

Bernice was only half paying attention to the light-hearted comments being made by her boss at the office luncheon. He was attempting to tell what sounded like a complicated joke to his employees in order to show himself as “one of the regular folks.” She glanced up from her almost empty glass of water about the same time that he finally laid down the punch line. No one really got it, but everyone offered their best chuckle, hearty smiles, and a spattering of claps to appease the man’s ego.

Bernice tossed in a forced smile before returning to mull her glass. Tiny shards of lemon had departed from the large slice that looked more like a capsized boat in her water than a piece of fruit and twirled helplessly around the quickly melting cubes of ice. She played with her straw and pretended to pay attention as another office executive took the podium to discuss something relating to something important and having to do with the company.

“Can you believe that joke?” one co-worker whispered to someone sitting next to Bernice. They both chuckled before hastily turning their attention back to the speaker, like elementary students afraid of being caught passing notes.

Bernice sighed. She had finally crawled into bed around 2:00AM the night before after putting the finishing touches on a project that had consumed her life for almost three weeks. She was going to be discussing the project after the executive currently boring everyone to sleep, so she needed to wake herself up and focus. She rubbed her eyes and took a deep breath in time for the speaker to finish his talk and announce her name.

“Bernice Gover will be giving us a quick overview of the Thompson project that is scheduled to begin within the next month or so. Don’t everyone fall asleep on her now. Bernice?”

Another smattering of hand claps preceded Bernice’s arrival to the podium. She looked out over the two dozen bored faces of her fellow co-workers. Just as she opened her mouth to begin her presentation, a light knock drew her attention as the side door to the conference room opened just enough for a female’s head to squeeze through.

“Ms. Gover?” the head whispered. It was her secretary Amy. “So sorry to bother…” Amy realized that everyone, including the bosses, was staring at her. “Um…you have a phone call…says it’s an emergency.”

Bernice smiled apologetically to her supervisor and crept to the door. “Really not a good time Amy. Can’t it wait?”

Amy leaned in, as though the information were top secret. “It’s been waiting…this is the fourth call from this person in an hour. She’s insisting on speaking to you now…says it’s about your sister Gypsi.”

“My sister? Who’s on the phone?”

“A young woman named Mackenzie…says she’s your sister’s roommate?” The last comment was as much a question as a statement. Amy’s blue eyes silently begged for mercy.

Bernice did not know Mackenzie well, but she knew enough to realize that this was truly an emergency. “Give me a minute and I’ll take it in my office.”

Amy’s head disappeared from the door as Bernice turned to face the room. “Mr. Gray, I am terribly sorry to do this, but I am afraid there is a family emergency I need to see to…my sister. Can you give me five minutes?”

Her boss, very gracious regardless of his bad jokes, nodded in approval. Bernice slipped out of the side door and hustled back to her office.

“This better be life or death,” she muttered to herself. “Or it’s going to be if I got pulled out of a meeting for parking ticket.”

Bernice reached the door of her office and let herself in. She grabbed the phone and pressed the red blinking light. “This is Bernice.”

“He…hell…hello?” The voice on the other end was weak and shaking. “Bernice?”

Bernice swallowed her impatience. “This is Bernice…how can I help you?”

“This…um…this is Mackenzie…w…we have…met before…I’m your sister’s roommate.”

“Yes, I remember you Mackenzie. How can I help you?”

“I’m sorry…um…if I interrupted something…”

Bernice was quickly losing her patience. “You did. But you also told my secretary that it was an emergency…so…”

“Right…it’s about Gypsi…”

“I’ve figured that much out. What’s going on?”

“Well…she…” Mackenzie paused and swallowed. “She’s missing.”

The statement did not register in Bernice’s mind, the words being from a foreign language that her ears did not recognize. “I’m sorry…what did you say?”

Mackenzie let out a sigh, as though she dreaded having to repeat the words. “She’s missing.”

“Since when?”

“Since sometime around spring break…I don’t know for sure when…just that she hasn’t been back…or around…since then.”

Bernice felt a small stab of guilt for the next question she needed to ask. “When was spring break?”

“You don’t…”Mackenzie stopped before she risked further agitating her friend’s sister. She knew from her friendship with Gypsi that her friend had a somewhat strained relationship with her sister. “It was the second week of March…two weeks ago.”

“Gypsi’s been missing for over two weeks and you’re just now calling me?” The flare of anger surprised both Bernice and the roommate.

“Look…she stayed on campus for spring break to work on a couple of projects for her classes. I thought maybe she decided to take a couple of days and relax somewhere. Actually for the first week, I thought she was with you.” The last statement was almost accusatory.

Bernice backed down. “I’m sorry…I’m just…”

Mackenzie’s voice softened. “I am too.”

“Have you talked to the police?”

“Tried to. The officer I spoke to didn’t seem to take me seriously…said it wasn’t surprising that someone students like to extend their break a little longer. He wouldn’t even fill out a missing person’s report on her. I’m sorry…really…”

“It’s not your fault.” Bernice paused as the anger slowly gravitated back to the surface. “Let’s see them try and blow me off.”

“What?”

“I’ll call you when I get to town. Just sit tight Mackenzie.”

Bernice hung up the phone, trying to calm herself enough to finish what needed to be done. She left her office and made a beeline for Amy’s desk.

“Is everything okay?” Amy asked, her face brimming with concern.

“Not really. I need you to make some travel arrangements for me…to Ashton.”

“Dates?” Amy was already pecking away at her keyboard.

“Just date…one-way for the moment. And clear my calendar.”

Amy looked up. “Wait…one-way? How long are you going to be gone?”

Bernice’s dark eyes clouded with anger. “Until I find my sister.”

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