The fall was long, and hard, and happened so fast that Violet could only make out the blur of green, brown, and gray on one side and the distorted icy rushing waters of the river on the other. She felt her ankle twist beneath her as she landed at the bottom. She hit the ground with a surprisingly loud thud that forced every ounce of air from her body. Her head ached, although she couldn’t tell if she’d hit it or not. Her body felt battered and defeated.
She opened her eyes, only briefly, expecting to see the camouflaged man in hot pursuit, taking advantage of her incapacity to finally catch up with, and kill, her. She looked up to the spot where she’d fallen from and she saw no one.
The imprint was gone.
When her lids became too heavy to hold open any longer, she let them flutter shut again.
And she dreamed.
WHEN VIOLET AWOKE, SHE WAS CONFUSED. Disoriented, like the strange sensation of waking up in a bed that wasn’t your own and then struggling to remember where you’d fallen asleep.
Only this time, Violet was pretty sure she hadn’t fallen asleep in the back of an ambulance.
The details of how she’d gotten there were hard for her to grasp and felt like scraps from a dream—or a hallucination—pieced together in incomplete segments.
She remembered running….
And being chased.
And a voice calling out to her.
She tried to sit up, only to find that she was fastened to the stretcher and her neck was being held immobile by a huge brace strapped around her.
She remembered falling, a memory made more clear by the pain shooting up from her ankle. She assured the paramedic riding with her that her neck was just fine, but he insisted that she stay put, and no amount of pleading on her part could change his mind.
“How did you find me?” Violet finally asked him, giving up on the idea that he would release her.
“Some kid called it in, said he was your boyfriend. He’s coming right behind us.” He waved his metal clipboard toward the rear doors of the vehicle as if Violet could see out of them. She couldn’t of course; she was strapped to a gurney. “I think he thinks the sirens are for him too.”
Violet closed her eyes. Jay had been there, it hadn’t been a dream after all. He’d come looking for her. She didn’t allow herself to think about what might have happened if he hadn’t.
Relief spread through her, insulating her in the knowledge that she was safe now. She kept her eyes closed and concentrated on the sounds of the wailing sirens to distract her from the throbbing pain in her ankle.
She was embarrassed by all the attention she drew when the ambulance pulled into the emergency bay at the hospital. Jay met her inside, and never left her side, holding her hand silently—reassuringly—throughout the triage process, where she was cleared from the restraints. And when she was finally wheeled back to a room with long curtains hanging down to separate one bed from another, Jay pulled a chair close to her.
He captured her hand between both of his and touched her fingertips to his lips. “Are you okay?” he finally asked, seeming to breathe for the first time since she’d seen him.
She felt guilty for causing him to look so troubled. “I’m fine, really. I think I just twisted my ankle a little. It’s nothing. As soon as my parents get here, we can go home.”
She hated being in the hospital. She’d already felt several imprints moving around her. She doubted those who carried them were murderers exactly, but Violet was certain that echoes attached to those who administered lethal doses of painkillers too…even when it was done to give the dying a more peaceful passing.
Jay’s mom was a nurse and carried an old, faint imprint of her own. Violet had never asked Jay about it, but when she’d told her mother once, her mom had explained that sometimes it was too much to watch someone suffering when they died.
“What were you doing so far off the trail, Vi?” Jay continued to cup her hand tenderly.
She didn’t answer him. This wasn’t a question she wanted to discuss yet—especially not with Jay. She asked him a question of her own. “I thought your mom needed you. How come you came back?”
She didn’t tell him how grateful she was that he had. Or why.
It was enough of a diversion to keep him occupied for a moment. “She only needed me to let her into her car. She locked her keys inside, and I had her spare with me. But by the time I got back to your house, your mom said you’d gone for a run. I was gonna try to meet up with you on your way back and walk with you, maybe sneak you behind the bushes for a few minutes.” He smiled at her before turning more serious. “And then I heard you yelling for help…and crap, Violet, it scared the hell out of me. How did you fall, anyway? What were you doing down by the river?”
She heard her parents then, before she saw them, and their chaotic arrival saved her from answering Jay’s questions. She could hear them at the nurse’s station outside her door, asking about their daughter’s condition, still questioning one of the nurses as they dragged her into the room with them.
Violet assured her parents—in the same way she had Jay—that she was fine. That it was just a fall, some bruises and scrapes, nothing to worry about. And still, no one seemed to believe her.
After a full workup, and a painful, and humiliatingly unsuccessful, attempt at standing on her own, she was sent down to Radiology for an X ray on her right ankle. By the time Uncle Stephen arrived with Aunt Kat, Violet was ready to make a run for it. Only she doubted she could get very far.