Karen whispered the phrase as a mantra, guiding her back to reality. A blurred vision of the mottled gray ceiling made her eyes ache. The sun hadn’t come up or it would’ve been white. Sheets thick with sweat clung to bare legs and feet, threatening her with a sense of claustrophobia.
It was starting again.
Every time she heard the voices, she reminded herself no one would send her back to the mental ward. Nineteen years passed since she was released as a supposedly cured little girl but the nightmares of the hospital weren’t so easily vanquished. Despite coming to terms with her quirk, the fear was still prevalent.
Karen closed her eyes and contemplated the dream. A young woman who couldn’t have been much over twenty reached a pale hand toward her. Flowing black hair danced on a breeze, more visual than tactile. The world around her was gray with a vortex of purple and black for the sky. She imagined a violent sea able to swallow a massive sailing ship whole.
“Karen…” The woman spoke in a breathy whisper, her dark eyes threatening to bore a hole into Karen’s spirit. “Listen to me…”
How is it my fantasy shifts from a trip down a Venice canal to this? Karen let out a sigh. I’ve got terrible luck!
She felt disgusting. Night sweats were common, and though she desperately wanted to get up to dry off, the threat of chill kept her in place for another few moments.
The clock read three-thirty in the morning. With an art show at noon, she would have loved to get a few more hours of rest. Unfortunately, she was wide awake. Whenever someone visited her in her dreams, their plight couldn’t be ignored. They were always intriguing. Perhaps she was specially wired to take such a keen interest.
It wouldn’t be the strangest thing about her.
Karen threw back the covers, heaving a sigh. She gritted her teeth against the cool air as it assaulted her sweat-slick skin. The bathroom light made her squint, and she stripped off her shorts and tee shirt. Shivering, she cranked the hot water, willing it to warm up faster. Her teeth began to chatter and she turned to the mirror, scrutinizing herself for some distraction before the steam made it impossible.
The whites of her eyes were threaded with red lines meandering away from jade green. Every blink felt like a film of gravel settled over her corneas. Blond hair was wild about her head and though it was all uniform length just above the shoulders, it couldn’t have been more untamed if she’d tried.
Narrow cheeks exposed prominent bones, flanking an aquiline nose. She sported a European look, one both exotic and pretty to a certain crowd. Turning away, she pursed rose bud lips with a tongue almost equally as dry, and went about her shower.
The water pounded down like a thousand heated raindrops all conspiring to monopolize her senses. Every overwhelming moment seemed to create a cleansing rapture. Eyes closed, only the sound of water clapping porcelain filled her ears. The grotesque stickiness of sleep melted away. The clarity left behind told her she’d take a nap after the show.
Karen earned a coveted spot at the art show, wall space occupied by some of the region’s best artists. Preparation required all her focus for just over a month. Half the battle involved finishing the painting, which was the easy part. Now she needed to be accessible and friendly. Breaking out of her introverted shell was painful but if she could do it, her reputation would benefit.
Regardless, the woman of her dream fought for her attention. The physical details were sketchy and broke down to dark eyes, long hair and deathly pale skin. Such ambiguity could describe many of her encounters. The voice mattered and the first words provided it an earnest definition.
Karen always seemed to know their names without introduction. This one was Andrea Reilly, a name accompanied by a sense of prominence. Karen never was one for local history but something in the back of her mind told her she heard of the Reilly family before. Possibly from one of her other cases.
She crawled out of the shower and threw on a terrycloth robe falling just above her knees. On the way to the kitchen, she booted up her computer and proceeded to pour herself a glass of water. The microwave clock read four-fifteen. She groaned.
Can’t the dead wait until eight o’clock at least? The thought made her shoulders slump as she flopped in her office chair. I don’t mean to be callous…but I wouldn’t be so sensitive with a few more hours of sleep.
Karen peered at the search engine and finally typed in Reilly along with a local qualifier to narrow the results. Now to see if my memory is as faulty as my sanity.
A mess of links appeared on the screen. She suddenly wished she made coffee. The boost would be necessary if she expected to pour over hundreds of links. The mouse wheel was like an eraser against her fingertip and she gave it a spin to satiate a bout of frustration welling up from her stomach.
Reilly Florists, Reilly Computer Services, Reilly Marketing, The Boobs of Wild Dana Reilly. Every search seemed to bring at least one hit about breasts. Reilly Barbeque…Karen tried throwing history into the mix to limit the results further.
The third link down of a new list immediately caught her eye. Haunted house in Boston suburbs becomes attraction.
“It can’t be that easy,” Karen said aloud, hovering the mouse over the link. “Can it?”
Haunted houses never helped before. Still, she couldn’t brush anything off, no matter how absurd it might seem. After all, one couldn’t get any stranger than talking to dead people. She felt compelled to follow any lead, at least until her sanity was proven to be fragile.
Karen clicked the link and winced at the bad design. Six years of art college left her intolerant of amateur work. The presentation was a mess with bad Halloween clip art distracting from the black text on a gray background. This coupled with a poorly drawn house the tacky headline The Dead Speak Through Boston’s Suburbia almost made her click away.
She forced herself to focus and read through to see if the rest of the site was just as worthless as their designer’s work.
‘This Tudor style manor was built in the late 1700s. It was home to the prominent seafaring family Reilly who served first the British and later the American interests in the Atlantic. Their trading fleet was large enough to afford them a wealthy lifestyle for several years before a terrible tragedy in 1805 changed everything.’
The caption under a drawing of the house read frightening sounds keep the casually curious away. At least it confirmed there was some tragedy but the year was disconcerting. Eighteen-oh-five was a far cry from any of her previous experiences. Though they were always linked to some horrible tragedy, none of them were older than a month or two.
Were her strange dreams gearing her up for something more difficult? A long forgotten death would definitely be a step up but she was convinced they were random. Some of them were so fresh the police were concerned about her interest. This death wouldn’t be in a cold file. The fact the cops wouldn’t care was at least a small favor.
The library would be a better place for further research. Internet hunting always helped her get started but Karen was far more comfortable in the company of old books. Census records, birth certificates and maybe port logs could tell a better story of the Reilly family than the dry presentation of a wiki or personal site.
It would all have to wait until after the show. A visit to the library was akin to sacrificing time to some eldritch god who championed knowledge. Every time she went in she closed the place out. At least it was fascinating. There had to be a positive side effect to her little gift.