The Maze Page 1

1

San Francisco, California May 15

IT WOULDN'T STOP, EVER.

She couldn't breathe. She was dying. She sat upright in her bed wheezing, trying to control the terror. She turned on the lamp beside her bed. There was nothing there. No, just shadows that kept the corners dark and frightening. But the door was closed. She always closed her bedroom door at night and locked it, then tilted a chair against it so that its back was snug against the doorknob. Just for good measure.

She stared at that door. It didn't move. It didn't so much as rattle in its frame. The knob did not turn. No one was on the other side trying to get in.

No one this time.

She made herself look over toward the window. She'd wanted to put bars on all the windows when she moved in seven months before, but at the last minute she decided that if she did she would have made herself a prisoner forever. Instead she'd switched to the fourth-floor apartment. There were two floors above her and no balconies. No one could come in through the window. And no one would think she was crazy because she lived on the fourth floor. It was a good move. There was no way she could continue living at home, where Belinda had lived. Where Douglas had lived.

The images were in her mind, always faded, always blurred, but still there and still menacing: bloody, but just beyond her ability to put them in focus. She was in a large dark space, huge, she couldn't see the beginning or the end of it. But there was a light, a narrow focused light, and she heard screams. And the screams. Loud, right there on her. And there was Belinda, always Belinda.

She was still choking on the fear. She didn't want to get up, but she made herself. She had to go to the bathroom. Thank God the bathroom was off the bedroom. Thank God she didn't have to unlock the bedroom door, pull the chair back from beneath the knob, and open it onto the dark hallway.

She flipped the bathroom light on before she went into the room, then blinked rapidly at the harsh light. She saw movement from the corner of her eye. Her throat clogged with terror. She whirled around: It was only herself in the mirror.

She stared at her reflection. She didn't recognize the wild woman before her. All she saw was fear: the twitching eyes, the sheen of sweat on her forehead, her hair ratty, her sleep shirt damp with perspiration.

She leaned close to the mirror. She stared at the pathetic woman whose face was still tense with fear. She realized in that moment that if she didn't make some serious changes the woman in the mirror would die.

To the woman staring back at her, she said, "Seven months ago I was supposed to go study music at Berkeley. I was the best. I loved making music, all the way from Mozart to John Lennon. I wanted to win the Fletcher competition and go to Julliard. But I didn't. Now I'm afraid of everything, including the dark."

She turned slowly away from the mirror and walked back into her bedroom. She walked to the window, turned the three locks that held it firmly in place, and pulled it up. It was difficult. The window hadn't been opened since she'd moved in.

She looked out into the night. There was a quarter moon. There were stars flooding the sky. The air was cool and fresh. She could see Alcatraz, Angel Island beyond it. She could see the few lights in Sausalito, just across the bay. The Transamerica building was brightly lit, a beacon in downtown San Francisco.

She turned away and walked to the bedroom door. She stood there a very long time. Finally she pulled the chair away

and set it where it belonged, in tne corner beside a reading light. She unlocked the door. No more, she thought, staring at that door, no more.

She flung it open. She stepped out into the hallway and stopped, every burgeoning whisper of courage in her freezing as she couldn't help but hear the sound of a creaking board not more than twenty feet away. The sound came again. No, it wasn't a creak; it was a lighter sound. It seemed to be coming from the small foyer by the front door. Who could be toying with her this way? Her own breath whooshed out. She was shaking, so frightened she could taste copper in her mouth. Copper? She'd bitten her lip, drawn blood.

How much longer could she live like this?

She dashed forward, turning on every light as she went. There was the sound again, this time like something lightly bumping against a piece of furniture-something that was a lot smaller than she was, something that was afraid of her. Then she saw it scurry into the kitchen. She burst out laughing, then slowly sank to the floor, her hands over her face as she sobbed.

2

Seven Years Later FBI Academy Quantico, Virginia

SHE WOULD GET TO THE TOP of that rope if it killed her. And it just might. She could actually feel each individual muscle in her arms pulling, stretching, feel the burning pain, the rippling cramps that were very close to knotting up on her. If that happened, she'd go sprawling to the mat below. Her brain already felt numb, but that was okay. Her brain wasn't climbing. It had just gotten her into this fix. And this was only the second round. It seemed as if she'd been climbing this rope since she was born.

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