With her spirits dampened, she hoped that at least her cat wouldn’t be around when she got home.
SLEEP WAS HARD TO HOLD ON TO THAT NIGHT, elusive and slippery, evading her at every turn. She was restless, and her dreams were segmented and disquieting.
Swaddled in the darkest part of the night, everything suddenly felt wrong to Violet. She couldn’t quite put her finger on what it was that was bothering her, but it was there nonetheless, that unnamed distress, looming over her and making her feel helpless…powerless.
She knew that the new and improved Jay was partially responsible for these unwelcome feelings. But that wasn’t really it…or at least, that was only part of what was troubling her.
Violet wasn’t sure exactly what the rest of it was. She woke twice to look around for Carl, assuming he was the cause of her midnight discomfort. She thought that maybe he was too near her, too soon after his kill. But when she looked for him, he was nowhere to be seen.
Finally, at just after six o’clock in the morning, as the sun was rising up through the gloom in an effort to conquer the sky, Violet decided to give up. There was only one thing she could do when she was feeling this way, only one way to clear her tangled thoughts.
She dressed quickly and quietly in shorts and a T-shirt. Despite the fact that the September day promised to be warm, it was still early and there was a damp chill in the air, so, as an afterthought, she also pulled a sweatshirt over her head.
She tiptoed out of the house, passing Carl in the kitchen and noting that the reek coming off him was beginning to fade already.
As she stepped outside, she took a deep breath of the dewy air while she put the earbuds from her iPod into her ears.
And then she jumped down from the porch and started running…slowly at first, an even, steady pace. She was acutely aware of the gentle rhythm of her feet pounding up from her soles and she concentrated on the tempo, letting it clear her mind as she synchronized her breathing into measured regularity with her footsteps.
As she reached the end of the road, she took a sudden, sharp left, leaving the blacktop in favor of a gravel trail that appeared between the stands of tall cedar and fir trees. She could feel the crunching of the gravel beneath her sneakers vibrating all the way up the muscles of her legs.
As she entered the clearing, at the top of the pasturelands that stretched out before her, the sight of the mountain against the painted backdrop of the dawn made her draw a deep, appreciative breath.
Violet had been born and raised in Buckley, a little nowhere of a town that sat on a stretch of highway that joined the western and eastern halves of the state. Buckley rested in the shadow of Mount Rainier, in the foothills of the Cascades. She had seen the majestic white peak rising high above the Cascade mountain range more times than she could count, and yet she never tired of the magnificent view. The larger mountain dwarfed the smaller ones that surrounded it, making it look as if it was floating above them. It was like a beacon, even against the most brilliant sky.
What made it even more of an extravagance, something not to be taken for granted, was that the mountain wasn’t out every day. Of course, Violet knew that it was always there; but in an area where the sun found itself cloaked by cloud cover more often than not, it was even more of a rarity to see Mount Rainier in its entirety, unobstructed by fog or the high clouds that often hung over the mountain from the top down…or flat-out obliterated by dense, dark clouds that blocked even the most tenacious light that tried to penetrate them.
She ran in the shadow of the mountain for as long as she could, until the trail she followed veered left again, winding around the rich, verdant pastureland that bordered the gravel pathway.
She was surprised that something so small as witnessing the mountain at sunrise could make her feel so much better. But it did. Already the foreboding feeling that had been hanging over her was lifting, and she felt clearer, calmer.
She settled into an easy pace, allowing her thoughts to drift away, lost in her music and the steady cadence of her body’s movements. She liked the feeling of control she had when she ran, that she was in command of her body, in charge of each muscle’s perfectly timed movements. She felt strong as she looked down at her long, ground-eating stride, and felt powerful in at least this element of her life.
She passed several weak death echoes as she ran. She’d grown accustomed to these, the ones that didn’t compel her—didn’t draw her—and she was able to ignore them easily enough. She didn’t know why these forgotten corpses didn’t call out to her in the way that others did; she only knew that they didn’t.
Not in the way the girl in the woods had when Violet was eight.
Emilee Marquez had been only fourteen years old when she was abducted on her way home from school. She was murdered before being buried in the soft soil where Violet had found her. The draw to find Emilee had been almost overpowering, something beyond Violet’s control.
Maybe it was because not much time had passed, or maybe it was because of the violence of the girl’s death. Or worse, Violet thought, perhaps it was because she was so aware of what was happening to her as she died. Maybe she understood too much, and that memory was forever burned on to her body in the form of an echo.
The girl’s killer was never found, but Violet would never forget the sound—the haunting voice—that had called her to the body. Sometimes she had nightmares that she would run into him, the man responsible, at the supermarket or at the mall, carrying the imprint of Emilee’s death on him like some unspeakable shadow that he could never escape.