Well, then, what else could she do today?
Explore some more, she decided, starting her car.
When she reached the main road, on impulse she turned away from town. She could at least circle the lake, see some more of the outskirts. Maybe drive all the way out to the new Nordic Center, if the highway remained bare of snow that far.
The resort on the lake just beyond her father’s looked familiar. With a niggle of memory, she thought it had been upgraded. Oh, and there was the campground. She’d walked that far along the lakeshore sometimes, although she wasn’t supposed to. When she was lucky she found other kids there to play with. Dad never noticed she was gone, as long as she was back by late afternoon when he was ready to leave for home.
Ahead, a road turned off to the right, away from the lake. Feeling...something, Nell squinted to see the road sign—253rd. There was no indication what, if anything, of interest was that way. The road was just a road. And yet, her heart had begun to thud in her chest.
She slowed and put her turn signal on. Apprehension morphed into dread.
I’ve gone this way. Not with Mom or Dad. So...how? Why?
Feeling nearly sick, Nell kept going. She lifted her foot to slow at the couple driveways she reached, but neither seemed to mean anything so she went on. Through the trees she glimpsed newer homes. Half a mile on, a county sign pointed to Bear Creek Picnic Area. A temporary sign had been added: Closed for the Winter. Whatever force had compelled her to take this road knew she wasn’t looking for the picnic area, either.
She had wound a mile and a half when she saw a falling-down sign. Letters had been burned into wood. She had to tilt her head to read it. Bear Creek Cabins. Across the sign, the word CLOSED had been spray-painted.
Here. This was it.
The pressure in her head made her want to keep going. Or turn around and drive back to town. Home. Except it’s not home, I’m only a guest.
No, she had to know.
Low-growing shrubbery pressed close. Branches scraped the sides of her car. The resort might be totally abandoned. But surely the driveway would be grown entirely over if no one ever used it. Her breath came faster and faster.
She emerged into a clearing to see a run-down log lodge—really more of a large house, never fancy like her father’s—and a string of primitive cabins stretching along the bank of the creek in each direction.
The resort might be closed, but someone lived here. More than a few someones. A couple of teenage boys had their heads under the hood of a car that had to have been as old as the resort. One of them banged his head when he straightened to look. Out of the corner of her eye she saw a whirl of movement by one of the cabins, as if someone were hiding.
I almost remember.
Nell coasted to a stop in front of the larger building. Once she turned off the engine, she sat very still, feeling as if more eyes were on her than the two teenage boys’.
Everything she hadn’t felt during the confrontation with her parents crashed down on her like a wave that would snatch her off her feet, tumble her, pull her into an undertow. She wanted desperately to leave.
Instead she got out. Thirty feet away, the boys stood frozen, staring. One had a wrench in a hand marked with black grease. Neither called hello or asked what she wanted. She couldn’t tell if they were alarmed or hostile.
She turned when the door opened. A woman stepped out. Unlike the boys’, her expression was pleasant and inquiring. “Can I help you?” she asked.
She looked like a modern-day hippie, graying hair braided nearly to her waist. She wore what appeared to be a man’s shirt over well-worn jeans and work boots. A few steps down from the porch, she stopped, her expression morphing into astonishment. “Aren’t you Maddie Dubeau?”
“You know me?” Nell asked, filled with sudden hope.
The woman became cautious. “Only from the news. Your face has been everywhere.”
Nell drew a shaky breath. “I’ve been here before. Back before I disappeared. Today, I just...drove here.” She could do nothing but be honest. “You know I lost my memory.”
“Some of it has come back. Only snatches. I don’t know what this place is. I had a boyfriend back then. Is it possible... Could he have lived here?”
The woman hesitated for a very long time. “Why don’t you come in,” she suggested finally.
Nell nodded dumbly and accompanied her. The interior, she saw, was homelike, but on a huge scale, as if this were a summer camp, or a family of thirty people or more lived here. A number of shabby sofas and chairs with sagging cushions were grouped around a large-screen television. Bookcases held DVDs and books. Lots of books. The sight comforted her. By the window stood an enormous Christmas tree, decorated with a motley assortment of ornaments. On the other side of the large, open space, long tables were ranged in rows, a combination of benches and mismatched chairs providing seating. Nell could see through a doorway into a kitchen that was equipped with a commercial range and refrigerator, a contrast to the lack of money spent on the furnishings.