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I woke from old memories into a world of breathless agony.

The pain stole outward from my middle, curling in my veins and heightened by my heart's racing tempo, seeming to thrum in my blood and sting under my fingernails. I screamed and, because the release did nothing to alleviate the feeling, choked on a moan, body trembling, curling in upon itself as if to cover and quench the insatiable burn. I laid in gasping repose for several minutes before reaching true awareness.

I wasn't dead. I knew I wasn't dead, because, for all its unspeakable terror, I knew death to be a final mercy—cold and unfeeling and essentially nothing, a sudden descent into the freezing unknown. This state of hot, sweat-soaked torment, damp sheets and the odor of antiseptic, bile and blood, my very skin so painful I wished to crawl out of it, was not death. Unfortunately, I was very much alive.

My sheets tangled in my slow, questing fingers. My sheets; I lay in my own bed in my own home, surrounded by the surreal, familiar objects of my life. The book I'd tossed aside after reading it the other night stuck out from beneath the pillow, the pages rumpled with perspiration and inattention. My grandfather's bequeathed pocket-watch ticked on the bureau and, outside, the sparrows chirped in the neighbor's cypress trees, just as they did every morning before dawn.

I was home.

That night, that horrid, wretched night, flashed through my pounding head and warped with the lingering memory of my misspent youth; my sister screamed both from the hanging rack and a cliff on the Californian coast, my name echoing in the dark and in the wind, a final, plaintive cry of terror, anxiety, and—above all else—regret.

My stomach flipped and bile rose in my throat. I managed not to sick up on the bed, but it was a near thing as I threw myself out of the blankets, retching, and collided with the bureau. The pocket-watch and various accoutrements, mostly cheap costume jewelry not deserving of the title accoutrements, rattled on the surface and the lamp took an unfortunate tumble to the floor. I clutched at the bureau's weathered drawers to keep myself upright, because if my trembling legs went out from under me, I knew I would not be getting back up.

Above my gasping and the shaking came a different sound, the ambient sound of...a pan shifting on the stove's grate, the click-click of the igniter, the rush of water as the kitchen sink turned on and then off again. Someone was in my house.

What happened?

If a person had come across us—me—in that despicable building, I would've woken in a hospital, plagued by the incessant drone of medical equipment and bored doctors. I would not have woken here. Raising a shaking hand, I stared at the gauze wrapped about my wrist, at the scrapes peppering my knuckles and the yellowing bruises staining my fingers. I wore clothes from my closet: a pair of old, threadbare sweatpants and a stretched cotton t-shirt, shoved onto my body inside out. Old blood darkened the shirt with careless smudges, the marks never clear, though a stain on my thigh, placed as if someone had gripped it to shove me over, showed an unmistakable handprint.

I placed my own hand over the bloodied spot and found it was much, much larger than my own.

Who's in my house?

Some delirious fevered voice chanted "Tara, it's Tara, it has to be Tara," over and over again, but cold cynicism reminded me I'd watched her die, that I'd stretched for her hand and I hadn't been able to reach it—.

...an accord, my promise and your order—.

I shut my eyes and cleared the errant voice from my thoughts, not sure where it came from. I remembered little beyond hitting the concrete floor and, judging by the sticky tape tugging at my hair, I must have injured my head along with everything else. Swallowing, I forced myself off the bureau, stumbled, and grabbed the door so I could wrench it open and enter the hallway.

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