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Prologue ** Chapter 1 ** Chapter 2**

PROLOGUE

I have a good imagination. Not to brag, but I do. Some people would say it was a blessing, but I always saw it as a curse. What good is a fruitful imagination when your life, real life I mean, is less vigorous than a static pond?

Inside my head I created a fantasy world that was more exciting than anything I saw on television or in the movies. In them I was outgoing and attractive, every guy’s dream date and every girl’s ideal friend. I had loads of witty retorts and clever remarks at my fingertips. I traveled to foreign lands and had wondrous adventures; I really lived.

Except that I didn’t. While my mind was off at a party, dancing with a handsome stranger who would love me for all eternity if I let him, my body was stuck in a rut, repeating the same mindless actions day in and day out. Wake up, go to class or work, come home, eat, and sleep. I was too poor to go out, too unpopular to be invited to parties – but then again; I was too antisocial to care. The exciting things that happened to me were few and far between, and still paled when compared to the stories in my head.

I knew they were all just stories, just fragments of my imagination, but I still expected them to be transformed into reality. Some part of me kept expecting the cute guy from work to notice me, realize that I was his dream woman, and sweep me off my feet. Instead he fell in love with the boss’s secretary and eloped to Reno. Last I heard they have two children. I still clung to my dreams despite they fact that I was always disappointed me. They were the only things that kept me going, or so I thought at the time. My thoughts on my imagination and dreams were about to be proven very wrong.

*****

I’d never considered myself a very attractive person. I thought my face was too round, my hair too curly, and my lips not pouty enough. So it came as a big surprise when I looked up from my work one day to find a customer staring at me. When I returned his gaze, he didn’t look away like I thought he would. Instead, he smiled a thin, wry smile, more thought provoking then friendly. I looked down at my work again, then glanced back up one more time. The stranger had vanished.

My imagination kicked into overdrive on that one. The stranger became a famous and wealthy man, ensnared by my beauty and air of quiet intelligence. He would ask me for a date, we would hit it off and become a real couple. It would all turn out happily ever after.

Of course, it never happened. I did get the feeling that I was being watched form time to time, watched by several pairs of eyes. It gave me the creeps, but I just shrugged it off as latent paranoia. I’d always had the feeling that I was being watched, and I figured everyone else did, too. I just never gave it any other significance .

I guess, looking back, I should have gotten somewhat suspicious. But, as someone in a movie once said, if hindsight was money, I’d be a millionaire. Hell, if that were true, I’d be a billionaire. But such is life.

So, aside from an occasional case of the creeps now and then, my boring life continued. School got out and I went home for the summer. Life moved on as it always had and I resigned myself to a life of tedious work and mind numbing repetition.

******

FOUR LOCAL GIRLS STILL MISSING – POLICE CONTINUE TO SEARCH

That was the headline. It meant nothing to me. Four girls from my area had, over the past week, disappeard while they were on their way to work. They disappeared without a trace, leaving the cops with nothing to go on. The only thing that connected them n any way was that all four were described as dreamers. Ooh. Can’t you hear the foreboding music in the background?

So, before I get you lost in my story, I guess I should give you some background on me. I’m an only child, the daughter of a teacher and an accountant. I was raised in a small town in central Florida. It was a town small enough to be confining but large enough to get lost in. I hated it, even when I was little and the next town over seemed like another world, distant and foreign. It was a town that I didn’t fit into; I never would. It lacked originality and imagination, the two things I craved most. Even its name, Lakeside, was unoriginal, because the town was located, you guessed it, next to a lake.

I guess that’s why my imagination took such a powerful hold over me, and made me vulnerable to unexpected trouble from the real world. But I’ll get into that later.

******

One of my most prominent dreams was of a man named Neil. Tall and beautiful, witty and charming, he invaded my dreams at least once a week. It became almost like a saga, a show to tune in to every week to see what happens next. I looked forward to the dreams. I craved the few dream filled hours I spent with him, which was odd, I guess, considering the fact that he was the only man in my dreams that didn’t pledge his undying love to me. I guess I craved that touch of reality. No one can ever be loved by anyone, and even in my dream world I got tired of being loved by the world. In my dreams, we would talk. He would tell me things, and I would share my opinion on them. We traveled to London and met with smugglers; we got caught in an art heist gone awry and were forced into a gun battle. In my dreams I always had an important function, and man I was skilled.

That morning began like any other. The sun rose in the east, the family of birds that lived outside my window chirped merrily, waking me up earlier than I planned. I was supposed to be at the bookstore I worked at by nine but I’d been having a little trouble getting there on time, so I decided to leave a little early. When I got in my car, I realized that I was out of petrol, so I pulled into an Arco and filled up. I quickly paid the attendant and sped away, pulling into the parking lot only ten minutes after I had planned to. On my way to the door, a man stepped into my path. He was tall, and his long black duster and sunglasses made him appear a looming, hulking figure. He didn’t say a word. He just grabbed a hand over my mouth to keep me from screaming, and shoved me into a waiting van, slamming the door after he had climbed in.

And I guess that’s where my story really begins.

CENTRAL FLORIDA, SUMMER 1999

Chapter One

The girl sat in the backseat, shivering with fear. Her kidnapper sat in the seat in front of her, turning to look her full in the face.

“Don’t scream. It won’t do you any good.”

The absolute cheesiness of the line struck her and she began to giggle hysterically, clapping her hands over her mouth.

(My notes: I wanted to tell the entire story from a first person point of view, but my self proclaimed editor insisted that most of it be third person for a “more eclectic viewpoint”, so that’s what you’re getting. I’ll inject my personal feelings from time to time. Now, on with the story)

The man waited patiently till she stopped laughing. “Sorry,” he grinned.

“I had to say it. It’s part of my contract.” He got serious then, and pulled out a blindfold. Holding it up, he said “Now, I need to put this over your eyes. Don’t try anything funny.”

He slipped the blindfold over her eyes and sat back. She heard the leather on the seat cushion creak slightly. She was left in total blackness. She had no idea who this man was, where she was being taken, or even why she was being taken for that matter.

“So, you’re not going to give me an explination, are you? That’s not very polite. Bad guys are supposed to give the hostage an explaination.” She waited for a response to come out of the darkness, then she felt his breath close to her ear.

“How do you know I’m the bad guy?”

*******

He really had a good point. I didn’t know if he was good or bad, but since he had kidnapped and blindfolded me, I was going for bad. I was more clueless than a deaf and blind person who can’t speak and has a cold. It was awful. I was stuck in a van that smelled faintly of peanut butter.

Then it occurred to me. My hands were free; I could reach up and pull off the blindfold. Why hadn’t I thought of this earlier? I mentally smacked myself, then reached up to pull off the blindfold. I heard a sharp click and the man’s voice came through the darkness, low and lethal.

“I wouldn’t do that if I was you. It’s there for a reason.”

“Well, in that case.” I put my hands back in my lap. ‘What a loser.’ Silence descended on the van once again, but only for a few minutes. Then the van jarred to a halt, almost tossing me off the seat.

“We’re here, princess,” the man said, and I heard the van door open.

******

The van had pulled up in front of what appeared to be a warehouse. The driver got out of the front seat and opened up a door in the building while the man in the back pulled the girl out and led her to it. Once inside the passageway, the driver shut the door behind them and disappeared, leaving the man and girl alone.

The man pulled her blindfold off and she blinked, her eyes adjusting to the light glaring down at them from fluorescent bulbs. When she had adequately adjusted, he turned and walked down the corridor.

“Follow me,” he said, motioning to her. Sighing, she did as he ordered. They went through what seemed like a maze of passages until the man stopped in front of an oak-paneled door. He opened it and motioned her inside. “In here.”

She walked into the room and looked around her. It was a nice sized room. It had a sofa, chairs, a bed, a bookcase full of books, and a tiny bathroom in one corner.

“You’ll stay here till I come back for you,” he said, and turned to leave.

“Wait,” she said. “What should I call you? I need something other than ‘scary sunglasses wearing guy’ to refer to you in my mind.”

He cracked a smile. “You can call me Tom.”

With that he left, locking the door behind him. The girl walked around the room, looking at everything in it. She was still clueless, but she was alive and unharmed, and those were two huge plusses in her book. She lay down on the bed and fell asleep.

Chapter Two

The door opened quietly. Tom entered the room slowly and walked over to where the girl lay on the bed, sleeping. He leaned over and shook her gently, trying to wake her up. She rolled over and sat up, blinking groggily.

“What?” she mumbled, still more asleep than awake. Then reality hit her and she sat bolt upright before quickly darting to the nearest corner, babbling nervously the entire time.

“If you think you’re going to get your jollies with me buddy, you’d better think twice. I have a belt in karate and I could kick your ass in a fight.” She broke off as she realized he was trying not to laugh.

“Have I tried to hurt you once?” he inquired. “I was merely trying to get you to wake up. The boss wants to see you now.”

“Oh.”

He motioned to a small dresser next to the bed. “There should be a change of clothes in there. Freshen up, put them on, and I’ll be back for you in 10 minutes.”

She opened the top drawer slowly, expecting some sort of trap. Instead, she found three folded t-shirts, one blue, one black, and one red. Next to them was a pair of jeans, some underwear, and a bra. ‘What the hell?’she thought as she pulled them out. They were all exactly her size; the jeans were even her favorite brand. ‘What is this, some strange episode of the “Twilight Zone”?’ Shrugging, she climbed out of her old wrinkled clothes and put on the new ones.

The door opened as she was lacing up her shoes. Tom stood in the doorway. He had removed his sunglasses and she could see that his eyes were a deep brown. He made him seem less imposing and the fear she felt abated slightly; she also thought she recognized him, though she couldn’t figure out where. Her fear returned when he spoke.

“Come on. You’ve been summoned.” Wordlessly, she followed him out the door. They walked through another maze of hallways, passing numerous unmarked doors. The hallway ended abruptly in double doors. Tom pushed the door open and indicated that she was to enter. She did, and the door swung open.

*****

The room was unlike anything I’d ever seen before. A large computer console was sitting in one corner. No, sitting wasn’t the right word. The console seemed to take up half the room. There was a large round table in the center of the room. It had chairs scattered around it, and three men occupied them. As Tom and I moved closer the middle of the men stood up. The glare from the overhead lights prevented me from seeing his face clearly. About ten feet from the table, maybe more, Tom stopped me. The standing mad spoke.

“Josephine Howard?” his voice was deep and strong, with a British accent.

“It’s Finn.” I had always hated my real name. It was the name my grandma wanted to give me, and my parents couldn’t say no to her because she was dying when I was born. My parents wanted to name me Rose – so that’s my middle name. I hate it too.

“Finn then. You were born September 27, 1979?”

“Ooh, smart. Are you psychic or something?”

The man laughed, his laughter echoing softly around the room. “Come, sit down.” Tom led me to the table and pulled out a chair. As I sat down, the glare left and I was able to see the man I had been speaking to. I gasped. Black hair, green eyes, strong jaw. It was a face I saw in my dreams once a week.

“Neil,” I said softly, unbelieving.

He smiled at me and bowed curtly.

“At your service.”

I smiled back. “Now this is making sense. This is a dream, right? No wonder.”

He stopped smiling. “This isn’t a dream.”

“Oh, really.” I couldn’t keep the sarcasm out of my voice.

“Really.” He looked at Tom, who pulled out a small pocketknife and pricked my finger. Hard. As blood welled up, I snatched my hand away.

“Hey, that hurt.”

Neil shook his head. “You should know better than anyone, Finn. Dreams don’t hurt. Especially not yours.” He pulled a small box out from under the table and pushed it across to me. It was a box of band-aids. I took one and wrapped it around my wounded finger.

“Okay, so this isn’t a dream. Then explain to me what’s going on.” My attempt to sound strong and unafraid just cam out as scared and my voice waivered.

Neil sat down. “You are a very rare individual, Finn. You have an ability that very few people have, the ability to pick up other peoples information through their dreams. The organization I work for needs that, and we want you to work with us. Are you willing?”

“If I don’t, what happens to me?”

He grinned. “We kill you.”

My heart stopped beating for a second. That was not what I had wanted to hear. Neil got up from the table and motioned fro me to follow him. I had no other choice, so I did. He led me to a door in a corner of the room near the computers. It had a blocked up window in one wall and a large mirror in another. A table took up the center of the room, while three desks with laptops on them occupied the corners. Three girls sat at the center table, an all of them looked up at me when I walked in. their faces showed a combination of fear and curiosity, the same emotions I was sure where parading across my own.

Neil didn’t enter the room. As I took a seat, Tome came in instead, carrying four sheets of paper. He handed one to each of us.

“Read it,’ he said. “There should be no questions. When you’re done reading, select a desk and get started.” He turned and left the room, shutting the door behind him. I looked down. It was a simple page of instructions.

<> it said, <>

‘Holy shit,’ I thought. ‘What have I gotten myself into?’ I kept reading.

< Third, figure out how to get out of the room.>>

So I was stuck in some kind of espionage game. Whatever. I didn’t want to get killed, so I decided to play along. I headed towards the nearest desk, completely blocking the other girls out. I sat down at the computer and turned it on. When it had booted up, a passowrd screen appeared.

‘Shit,’ I said quietly, and closed my eyes. Then I remembered that in one of my dreams, I had to break into a computer to extract valuable information. But I had used a password decoder in it. ‘What would be the luck of having one of those in here?’ I wondered. I opened up the first drawer. It was empty. But then I noticed – the drawer itself was a lot deeper than the inside space. I pried the bottom of the drawer up, and hit the jackpot. Inside was a decoder. I pulled it out and attatched it to the computer. Out of nowhere, what to do came to me, and within minutes I had the password. Once within the hard drive, I located the file labeled ‘Mom’, popped in a disk I found on the desk, and copied the file.

I smiled. That hadn’t been so hard, but I wasn’t so sure about the next part. I opened up the bottom drawer, and twelve gun parts stared back up at me. I’d never touched a gun before in my life. I pulled the pieces out and placed them on the desk next to the computer. All the parts looked the same until a dream from the previous week flashed through my mind. It was really starting to creep me out. In my mind I saw all the pieces that came from the same gun and sorted them from the pile, returning the unused ones to the drawer. Then, with careful precision, still not quite sure what I was doing, I began to put the gun together.

******

Neil and Tom watched the four girls through the one way mirror. A speaker inside their room picked up the girls voices and carried them into their room. They watched as each girl picked a desk. The three girls who had already in the room looked around, talking, before they picked their desks, while Finn headed straight for the desk nearest to her and got to work.

They watched her eyes glaze over as she remembered her dreams and extracted the information from them, allowing her to complete her task quickly and efficiently.

“My god,” Tom whispered. “I think we’ve finally found her.”

Neil smiled as Finn moved on to the gun while the others were still working on cracking the computer’s password, and had assembled within a minute. “I think you’re right. Now, let’s hope she proves it.”

They both watched tersely. The last challenge would prove whether or not she would pass.

Finn got up from the desk, leaving the gun on the desktop, and walked over to the mirror. The other girls looked on with amazement. She reached up and placed her finger against the window, then looked at the reflection. She smiled to herself, a tiny secret smile. Then she turned, walked to the door, and put her hand on the knob.

“Oh, don’t try that,” one of the girls, a redhead, said. “It’s probably locked.” A note of hysteria crept into her voice. “There’s probably no way out of here.”

“Don’t listen to her,” the girl next to her said. “Try the window. It’s probably the best bet.”

“Yeah,” the third joined in. “The door can’t be the way out.”

Neil and Tom looked on. The opening was the test. They both willed her to succeed.

Inside the room, Finn smiled. “Would they make it that hard? You can’t know it’s the door until you try it.” She turned the handle and the door opened easily. She went through and shut it behind her, heading for the small room adjacent to the testing room. Opening the door, she entered. Tom and Neil turned from the window, smiling.

“A two way mirror. Clever,” she said. Neil came forward and clasped her hand. Then, realizing what he’d done, he let it go.

“Congratulations,” he said. “You’ve passed.”

Tom was not so formal. He came up and hugged her. Finn pulled away. “Those girls,” she said, her eyes narrowing, “they’re the missing ones from the town, aren’t they? Where’s the fourth one? Did you kill her?”

Neil shook his head. “No, we didn’t kill her. She ran away of her own violition.”

“So, what are you going to do with them?” She grabbed Tom’s arm as he headed out the door with a small bag. “You can’t kill them! They didn’t do anything!” Tom slipped out of her grasp. “I’m not going to kill them.” Finn and Neil watched through the window as Tom entered the other room and injected each with a needle from his bag.

“What’s he doing?”

“Tom’s giving them a drug that will make them forget their time here. He’ll take them home, and all thay’ll remember is that they ran away from home. They won’t be harmed in any way.” He took her by the hand and led her back to her room, without saying another word. Once inside her room he spoke.

“Rest now, and tomorrow we’ll try to give you some of the answers you want.”

He patted her shoulder and before she could respond, he was gone.

Chapter 3 coming soon