Lindsay hadn't hiked in years, so she tired quickly. It didn't help that she had had that mysterious dream again. Why couldn't she ever remember anything about it? That was just as disturbing as the dream itself. She forced herself to stop thinking about it, and focus on her surroundings and her friends. They all wore shorts and t_tops, and visored caps. Megan seemed to be the natural leader, so they took their cues from her.
The sky was a beautiful, cloudless blue, and the country not so much sandy, as it was covered with rock and scrub. Some of the rocks were pretty high, and soon all four of them were scrambling over them, enjoying themselves. The air was still a breatheable warm.
"Oh, man, isn't this great?" squeaked Jenny. "And look what I just found!"
She held up an interestingly patterned stone. They all admired it, and she put it in her collection bag, along with the several others she had already found.
"Don't get too many, Jenny," Megan laughed. "That bag will be getting pretty heavy before we stop."
"I know," she sniffed. "I'll be good."
Megan got out the map and spread it on a nearby boulder as the others gathered around her to look.
"We're just about here," she pointed. "There's supposed to be a waterside campsite about two miles from here, in that direction. It looks like a good place to stop."
"Where is the petroglyph cave?" Lindsay asked.
"Close to there; maybe–half a mile, maybe not that far." Megan took a close look at her. "You want to rest?"
"No. I can wait until we get there."
Megan handed her a canteen. "We'll go a little slower, and head straight for the site. Okay?"
Lindsay nodded, as did the others. They were all beginning to feel the strain of unused muscles.
The campsite was beautiful. The girls took advantage of the cool water to take a quick swim, then settled down to rest in their tents through the heat of the day.
Lindsay was tired, but couldn't sleep. She closed her eyes, and let her mind drift back three years, to the night in Russia, when she had lost Connor. She could still see Peter running toward her, then hearing the
first of the explosions.
"Peter!" she had screamed. "Connor! Where's Connor?" He had looked at her helplessly, and grabbed her to keep her from running back into the building. She had fought with him, angrier than she had ever been in her life. "Let me go!" she cried. "I have to get to him before it's too late!"
"It is too late, Lindsay. He told me to go! He had one of those parasite things in him."
Lindsay was beyond rational. "No! You should have made him come! Why didn't you?" She had even tried to hit him, but he was much stronger than she, despite her frenzy.
"I tried, Lindsay. Honest! But he was dying, and he knew it. You saw what those things do. Did you want him to go through that?"
He had relaxed his hold on her now, and she let out a terrible wail, collapsing in the snow and sobbing, her face buried in her hands. Anton had tried to comfort her, but she was in no mood.
For about a week, she was like that, and then a quietness had come over her. After that, she had been more herself, except for a coolness toward Peter that had eventually scarred over.
But her hurt had never gone. It had gotten easier over time, but was always there. She had loved Connor for a long time, and he had eventually began to notice her after that incident at the prison. He had only told her a few days before, and warned her to secrecy, because her life would be in danger. She knew that it was against policy to become involved with co-workers, and he had been planning to resign, but the Russian incident had put an end to that.
She sighed and sat up. It was no use. She might as well take a walk. The others were still asleep, and she planned to scout ahead a ways to see if she could spot the petroglyph cave. That would be nice and cool on a hot desert afternoon. She took a canteen and started off in the direction Megan had pointed. There was a mound of earth nearby, still within sight of the camp, and she climbed that to look around.
Inside the hidden complex, an alarm sounded. The operator checked the screen, then turned to the man on duty. "There's a breach in the north perimeter," he told him. "Get out there and check on it."
The other man nodded, and left the room.
Colleen stretched and woke, then rolled over to see if Lindsay was awake. Finding her gone, she went outside to see if she could spot her. There she was, atop that nearby mound. She started to join her, then stopped. Something about the way she sat there, hunched up, with her head resting on her knees, said "leave her alone." She had been aware that Lindsay had been less than herself since she arrived, so maybe it was better to wait until she wanted to talk. Turning, she walked down to the stream for a cool drink and to fill their canteens.
The car was almost silent as it pulled up at the foot of the rise. He got out, and despite the dark glasses he wore, winced at the harsh outdoor light. He climbed up behind Lindsay and spoke.
"Miss. I am sorry, but you are on private government property. You must leave at once."
Lindsay sighed and slowly raised her head, not looking behind her. "I'm sorry; I didn't know." She got to her feet, and turned. As she did, she gave a start. The man standing before her was horribly misshapen, and despite the heat, wore a black suit and black leather gloves. "Wh_what do you want?" she stammered, as she slowly approached him, then–"Who are you?"
"I have told you. You are on private property. You must leave here at once."
Unhearing, she stared as she stopped in front of him. "What would a man in black be doing here?" she wondered, then gasped in mixed disbelief and recognition. "Oh, no! It can’t be!" she whispered, and raised her trembling hand to touch him.
He brought his left hand up to block her, not unkindly, because somewhere in the numbed part of his mind, something was struggling to break through. The moment they touched, the barriers fell. Both remembered their dreams with crystal clarity. Hers, of Connor's voice, telling her to look for a man in black, and his, of this woman, suddenly illuminated, telling him she loved him.
"Oh, my darling! What have they done to you?" She whispered, laughing and crying at once, her eyes filled with both love and pain as he allowed her to touch him. "Who did this to you?"
"I know you. Who are you?' he answered, confused.
Glancing up the hill again, Colleen saw the second figure, and, dropping the canteens, raced to the other tent. "Meg! Jenny!" she screamed. "I think Lindsay's in trouble!"
The other two girls burst out of their tent in a dead run, Megan's long legs closing the space quickly. The other two were only yards behind her, Jenny absent_mindedly still carrying the canteen she was drinking from when Colleen had called. They were still out of earshot when Lindsay became aware of them coming.
Then two things happened at once. Another wave of pain hit Connor, throwing him off balance and toward Lindsay. To the others it looked as if he were attacking her. Without thinking, Jenny slingshoted the canteen. It hit its mark perfectly, and he went down. Lindsay shrieked and fell to her knees beside him.
Megan was the first to reach them. "Lindsay! Lindsay! Are you all right? Did he hurt you?"
"No! He's hurt! Help him! Help him!" she screamed. Snatching up the canteen, she cradled his head in her lap, rinsing his face and protecting him from the sun.
"Easy. Easy. It'll be all right. Calm down." She soothed as she broke out her cell phone/GPS device. "They'll be here soon. Calm down."
By now the others had reached them.
"Oops." Jenny said.
Within twenty minutes the Med_Evac helicopter had evacuated a violently shivering Lindsay and an unconscious Connor to Carson City. The others would have to pack up and hike back.
Anton heard Peter pounding down the corridor and calling his name long before he burst into the room. "Anton!" he gasped. "Lindsay's in Carson City hopital!" Within the hour they were on a plane for Nevada.
Dr. Benjamin Royce was called in on Connor's case. As of now, he was still unconscious, but stable. He examined him, baffled, ordered more tests, and went to his office to place a call to an old friend.
It was nearing evening when Anton and Peter arrived. On the plane, all Peter could tell him was that the call had come in from Lindsay's girlfriend saying that she had had some kind of a breakdown.
Finding information once they arrived was exasperating, but they were finally put in touch with the doctor who had admitted her. She told them she could find her on the Psych Ward, under heavy sedation. "She fought like she was on PCP," the doctor added, a little contemptuously. "She
wouldn't let us near the other patient, nor would she leave so we could examine him."
"Other patient? What other patient?" He looked at Peter, and Peter shook his head.
"We don't know yet. There was no identification. Odd circumstances, and we couldn't get a straight story out of her. It took two 300-pound orderlies just to remove her from the ER."
Anton fought a burst of anger. "Can you direct me to the Psych Ward?" he asked carefully.
"Second floor. Be careful. She's violent!"
They turned toward the elevators. "Vio-lent!" he all but spat the word. "I'll show her violent if she's done anything to that girl."
Anton spun around, then a broad smile crossed his face. "Ben! I didn't know you were here in Nevada. How are you?" he asked as they shook hands. "This is my co_worker, Peter Axon. Peter, this is Dr. Benjamin Royce, an old colleague of mine."
Benjamin Royce was short, rather fat, balding and with heavy glasses. "How did you get here so fast? I just called you an hour ago."
"You did? But we've been in flight all afternoon. What's up?"
"I have got the weirdest case. Thought maybe you could help me with it."
"Glad to. But I have a friend who's a patient in this hospital. Let me check on her first."
"Sure. Just have me paged when you're ready. It's awfully good to see you, Anton."
"You too, Ben," he smiled.
When they reached the Psychiatric Ward, it was no easy time being admitted to Lindsay's room. They were reluctant to let Peter accompany him, until he introduced him as "Dr." Axon.
As they followed a huge orderly down the hall, Peter whispered, "Dr?"
"I didn't say of what," Anton grinned. Peter was a physicist.
"Can I come in with you?"
Anton considered. "Let me check first; then maybe you can stay with her while I talk to Ben."
Peter nodded and leaned against the wall to wait. Soundproofed or not, he could hear her crying. It wrenched him; he had heard it before, three years ago, and it still affected him.
Not sure of what to expect, Anton was wary of the orderly on the far side of the room. Lindsay was still sobbing and shaking, despite the sedation.
"Anton! Oh, thank heaven you're here! Get me out of here! Please get me out! They're going to hurt him! I have to protect him! Please get me out before it's too late!"
"Hurt who, my dear? Who are you talking about?"
"Connor! I found him! Or, he found me! He was in the desert, all dressed in black, and Jenny hit him with a canteen!"
The words tumbled out and ran together, and Anton became more confused with each word. "Slow down, Lindsay! I can't help you if I can't understand."
Lindsay took a deep breath, swallowed, then with an effort became more coherent. As she told her story, Anton's eyes widened. When she finished she begged him, "Please get me out of here! They might come for him, and I can't lose him! Not again." With the last words, her control slipped, and she began to sob, but this time, more quietly.
"Let me go see what I can do. Peter's here. Do you want him to stay with you?"
Lindsay nodded, and Anton went out into the hall.
"What's going on?" Peter asked. "Is she all right?"
"She's–not physically hurt."He frowned at Peter, considering. "As to what she's saying–well, just be patient with her. I'll get to the bottom of this."The Slender Thread Pt. 3