Water Bound

By: Christine Feehan

1


FLAMES raced up the walls to spread across the ceiling. Orange. Red. Alive. The fire was looking right at her. She could hear it breathing. It rose up, hissing and spitting, following her as she crawled across the floor. Smoke swirled through the room, choking her. She stayed low and held her breath as much as possible. All the while the greedy flames reached for her with a voracious appetite, licking at her skin, scorching and searing, singeing the tips of her hair.

Chunks of flaming debris fell from the ceiling onto the floor, and glass shattered. A series of small explosions detonated throughout the room as lamps burst from the intense heat. She dragged herself toward the only exit, the small doggy door in the kitchen. Behind her the fire roared as if enraged by her attempt to escape.

The fire shimmered like a dancing wall. Her vision tunneled until the flames became a giant monster, reaching with long arms and a ghastly, distorted head. It crawled after her on the floor, its hideous tongue licking at her bare feet. She screamed, but the only sound that emerged was a terrible choking cough. She turned to face her enemy, felt its malevolence as the flames poured over her, trying to consume her, trying to devour her from the inside out. Her scream finally broke past the terrible ball blocking her throat, and she shrieked her terror in a high-pitched wail. She tried to call out, to beg for water to come to her, to save her, to drench her in cool, soothing liquid. In the distance the shriek of the sirens grew louder and louder. She threw herself sideways to avoid the flames . . .

Rikki Sitmore landed hard on the floor beside her bed. She lay there, her heart racing, terror pounding through her veins, her mind struggling to assimilate the fact that it was just a nightmare. The same old familiar nightmare. She was safe and unharmed—even though she could still feel the heat of the fire on her skin.

“Damn it.” Her hand fumbled for the clock radio, her fingers slapping blindly in search of the button that would stop the alarm that sounded so like the fire engine from her dreams. In the ensuing silence, she could hear the sound of water flowing, answering her cry for help, and she knew from experience that every faucet in her house was running.

She forced herself to sit up, groaning softly as her body protested. Her joints and muscles ached, as if she’d been rigid for hours.

Rikki wiped her sweat-drenched face with her hand, dragged herself to her feet and forced her aching body to walk from room to room, turning off faucets as she went. At last only the sink and shower in her bathroom were left. As she went back through the bedroom, she turned on the radio and the coastal radio station flooded the room with music. She needed the sea today. Her beloved sea. Nothing worked better to calm her mind when she was too close to the past.

The moment she crossed the threshold of her bathroom, cool sea colors surrounded her with instant calm. The green slate beneath her feet matched the slate sea turtles swimming through an ocean of glossy blue around the walls.

She always showered at night to wash the sea off of her, but after a particularly bad nightmare, the spray of the water on her skin felt like a healing wash for her soul. The water in the shower was already running, calling to her, and she stepped into the stall. Instantly the water soothed her, soaked into her pores, refreshed her. Her personal talisman. The drops on her skin felt sensual, nearly mesmerizing her with the perfection of their shape. She was lost in the clarity and immediately zoned out, taken to another realm where all chaos was gone from her mind.

Things that might ordinarily hurt—sounds, textures, the everyday things others took for granted—were washed away like the sweat from her nightmares or the salt from the sea. When she stood in the water, she was as close to normal as she would ever get, and she reveled in the feeling. As always she was lost in the shower, disappearing into the clean, refreshing pleasure it brought her, until abruptly the hot water was gone and her shower turned ice-cold, startling her out of her trance.

Once she could breathe without a hitch, she toweled off and dragged on her sweats without looking at the scars on her calves and feet. She didn’t need to relive those moments again—yet night after night the fire was back, looking at her, marking her for death.

She shivered, turned up her radio so she could hear it throughout the house and pulled out her laptop, taking it through the hallway to her kitchen. Blessed coffee was the only answer to idiocy. She started the coffee while she listened to the radio spitting out local news. She dropped into a chair, stilling to concentrate when it came to the weather. She wanted to know what her mistress was feeling this morning. Calm? Angry? A little stormy? She stretched as she listened. Calm seas. Little wind. A freaking tsunami drill?

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