HIDDEN LAKE

Hidden Lake was originally published by Ballantine. It was Trish’s second novel, published under her maiden name Trish Janeshutz. $3.99 at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Here’s an excerpt:

Prologue

January 23 11:00 P.M.

Gary Lukas felt as if he were floating in a vat of Jell-O. When he moved, his legs became plump chips of fruit. Every time he exhaled, the Jell-O quivered and he imagined it opening up and himself sinking down and the stuff closing over him. He didn’t want to be here. He was tired, the lab was too cold, the electrodes taped to his temples itched, and he was hungry. Yes, that most of all.

But these small discomforts shrank as the soft hum of the machine tugged gently at him, nudging him down to alpha and the borderline of sleep. For a few pleasant moments he drifted through a plateau of hypnogogic images: a lavender desert looming with stark rock formations; his kitchen table at home, strewn with bills, stacks of magazines, scraps of paper with phone num­bers on them; the slender shape of the pine in front of his house. These images paled as Dr. Jaworski’s voice nipped at the edges of his mind. A smooth, slick voice: “Can you hear me, Gary?”

“Hmm.” It was an effort to form words.

“Whenever you start getting anything, just talk, like we’ve done before. The recorder’s on.”

He grunted.

For months Dr. Jaworski had been testing Lukas, hooking him up to his weird machines and measuring what he called PSI-Q. Lukas had argued that psychic ability wasn’t something you scaled like intelligence or knowledge. There were no multiple choice quizzes where ninety out of a hundred points meant an automatic A. But Jaworski, like so many investigators, had his own theories, and Lukas went along with the sessions be­cause they were fun and provided additional income. He liked this type of session the best, where there was no specific goal. He was just supposed to free-fall and flow, engaging in a kind of psychic brainstorming.

Down, down, he slipped. He was in a canoe, paddling through an ashen moonlight dappled with shadows. Crick­ets cried out around him. Trees rustled and leaned into the wind. The cool air smelled sweet, as if it had just rained. Overhead, a magma of clouds sailed past a sliv­ered moon impaled against an inky, forbidding sky. He was dimly aware of his voice describing the scene. But his mind had split down the middle, and after a while he barely heard it.

Lukas saw a wooden raft in the middle of the lake, kept afloat by rusting barrels. It creaked and moaned, protesting years of neglect. Just beyond it, a school of minnows rose twitching from the water, a slick and silvery mass that melded with the puddles of moonlight, then descended with a splash.

“Can you tell specifically where you are, Gary?”

Jaworski’s voice penetrated, then faded away and be­came Lukas’: “In a lake, yeah, in a lake surrounded by banyan and ficus trees.” In that part of Lukas which was still himself, he knew the area was familiar.

The paddles rose from the water as the canoe ap­proached the dock. Water lapped at the sides. The body in which he found himself picked up two objects from the bottom of the canoe—something heavy—A brick? Is it a brick?—and a bird, a duck. Its head flopped like a doll’s. Dead, the duck was dead. These items were tossed into the grass and the canoe was secured with a rope.

“I’m moving toward a house now. It’s set back in the pines. I have the dead duck in one hand and the brick in the other. Blood, there’s a lot of blood from the bird.” He could smell the blood. It was on his gloves, warm, seeping.

He moved along the side of the house. He knew this place, but couldn’t name it. The knowledge was buried in a part of himself that had been pushed aside for the other. An alarm shrieked inside him, warning him to break the connection. But he was embedded, aware of the hate and savage purposefulness that propelled the body toward the trees, to the side door.

“I’m breaking the glass in a door pane now, tapping the brick against it enough to crack it, working the glass loose, reaching inside to unlock the door. It’s simple, real simple.”

He stood in a kitchen. Odors wafted around him, the faint vestiges of dinner: chicken, coffee, cinnamon, and apples. Sounds in the room possessed a startling clarity—the hum of the fridge, a clock ticking, ticking like a bomb, water gurgling in pipes. Lukas heard himself de­scribing the slow walk toward the fuse box, but his voice was insubstantial, a shadow that bled between the other sounds. He reached into his pocket, brought out a penlight. He turned it on. Tiny circles of light scampered across the wall, then focused on the inside of the fuse box as he opened it. He threw the master switch and the house died. Time stopped.

His bladder was full, his head ached as he started through the kitchen doorway, into the hall. Something darted past his legs, his heart jumped into his throat, he flashed the light until it struck something: glowing moons suspended in the black; Satan’s eyes. He nearly screamed. Then the thing moved away and he saw it was a cat, just a goddamned cat. His leg was warm now and damp. His bladder had let loose. Rage and apprehension raced along his tongue, souring his mouth. He inched through the doorway, back to the wall.

“Gary? Gary, can you hear me?”

He didn’t want to talk, didn’t need to. But he mur­mured, “Hallway. Dark. Very dark,” and the words stuck to his tongue like insects to flypaper.

Upstairs, a door opened. The breaking of the glass must have awakened her.

He gritted his teeth, grinding them hard, and hurried into the hall. He flattened himself against the side of the staircase. More noise now: the shuffling of feet, a soft sigh, Anna’s voice. “Gretchen, was that you, girl?” He heard uncertainty in her voice, a prick of fear.

The brick, like the duck, was heavy and warm in his hands. It pulsed with the life he gave it. He felt its vibrations in his fingertips, rippling up, up into his arm, shoulder, neck, zipping straight into his brain.

“Gretchen?” she called again.

He glanced at his watch: 11:45. Right on schedule. But she should’ve been asleep.

Improvisation is the crux of success. Who had said that?

He needed five minutes, that was all. Three hundred little ol’ seconds.

The stairs creaked as she started down. She moved cautiously, as if she suspected something. In the dark he grinned, sensing her trepidation. His stomach twisted. The sour taste in his mouth slid along his tongue, burn­ing it like acid. She was going to make it bad for herself, very bad.

“Gary, this is Jaworski, snap out of it!”

Go away, go away.

Lukas snuggled down into the body, watching, waiting, listening, his hand tightening around the duck’s neck now. Something seemed to build in the air, a power that was almost tangible. Its tendrils reached out through the dark, testing, seeking. Instinct­ively, he moved farther into a cupola of shadows.

Then suddenly he heaved the dead duck toward her. He heard her grunt, then screech as she lost her balance and tumbled, arms pinwheeling, noises like burps pop­ping in the air around her. She lay groaning at the foot of the stairs, shaking her head, trying to lift herself. She favored her left side as she tried to crawl. He stood, came out, showed himself. “Hello, Anna.”

“S-something h-hit me. It…hurt my leg,” she whim­pered. “My leg.”

He shone the light in her eyes. She blinked, a hand flew to her face. “What the—”

He, shut off the light. Oh, how he loved this, how he loved seeing her helpless on the floor, leg twisted under her, useless. “Is that better?”

“How…how did you get in here?” she demanded. Her cockiness, her arrogance: this was what he hated most about her. “I walked in. The door was wide open, see?” He unlocked the door, opened it completely, then quickly shut it again. Now he gripped the brick, hard. “Don’t,” she said. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

“You?” he laughed. “You hurt me?”

“I mean it,” she said as he stepped toward her.

He chuckled, but a sudden pain cramped his gut. Nausea rolled through him. That power, energy, what­ever it was he’d felt before, as she’d descended the stairs, thickened the air like flour in water.

“Just go. Please. I don’t want to hurt you.”

He continued toward her, gritting his teeth against the pain in his stomach. But as he raised his arm, the brick in his hand turned hot. He ignored it and quickly brought his arm down. The first blow struck her against the side of the head. The violence momentarily snapped Lukas back into himself and he cried, “Anna, my God, it’s Anna.”

The second blow smacked her directly across the fore­head. Bones splintered, blood spurted, and Lukas con­tinued to cry out, unable to extricate himself, to halt the vision. It rushed toward him in vertiginous waves beaded with blood. Someone shook him, shouted his name as the hand kept coming down again and again. Chips of bone mixed with brain and blood, so much blood. A voice in the lab screamed, “Something’s happened to Gary!”

Blood. Her face. He…

“Get up, Gary, that’s right. C’mon, man, move, walk, that’s right.” Something cold and hard pressed against his mouth; it was the edge of a glass. He drank, choked, caught his breath. And then, mercifully, he passed out.

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