Before She Disappeared by Lisa Gardner


CHAPTER 1




            The water feels like a cold caress against my face. I kick deeper down into the gloom, my long hair trailing behind me like a dark eel. I’m wearing clothes. Jeans, tennis shoes, a T-shirt topped with an open windbreaker that wings out and slows my descent. My clothing grows heavier and heavier till I can barely flutter my legs, work my arms.

            Why am I in clothes?

            Wet suit.

            Oxygen tank.

            Thoughts drift through my mind but I can’t quite grab them.

            I must reach the bottom of the lake. Where the sunlight no longer penetrates and sinuous creatures lurk. I must find . . . I must do . . .

            My lungs are now as heavy as my legs. A feeling of pressure builds in my chest.

            An old Chevy truck. Dented, battered, with a cab roof sun-bleached the color of a barely lit sky. This image appears in my mind and I seize it tightly. That’s why I’m here, that’s what I’m looking for. A sliver of silver in the lake’s muck.

            I started with sonar. Another random thought, but as I sink lower in the watery abyss, I can picture that, too. Me, piloting a small boat that I’d rented with my own money. Conducting long sweeps across the lake for two days straight, which was all I could afford, working a theory everyone else had dismissed. Until . . .

            Where is my wet suit? My oxygen tank? Something’s wrong. I need . . . I must . . .

            I can’t hold the thought. My lungs are burning. I feel them collapsing in my chest and the desire to inhale is overwhelming. A single gasp of dark, cloudy water. No longer fighting the lake, but becoming one with it. Then I won’t have to swim anymore. I will plummet to the bottom, and if my theory is right, I will join my target as yet another lost soul never to be seen again.

            Old truck. Cab roof sun-bleached the color of a barely lit sky. Remember. Focus. Find it.

            Is that a glimpse of silver I see over there, partially hidden by a dense wall of waving grasses?

            I try to head in that direction but get tangled in my flapping windbreaker. I pause, treading my legs frantically while trying to free my arms from my jacket’s clinging grip.

            Chest, constricting tighter.

            Didn’t I have an oxygen tank?

            Wasn’t I wearing a wet suit?

            Something is so very wrong. I need to hold the thought, but the lake is winning and my chest hurts and my limbs have grown tired.

            The water is soft against my cheek. It calls to me, and I feel myself answer.

            My legs slow. My arms drift up. I succumb to the weight of my clothes, the lead in my chest. I start to sink faster. Down, down, down.

            I close my eyes and let go.

            Paul always said I fought too much. I made things too hard. Even his love for me. But of course, I didn’t listen.

            Now, a curious warmth fills my veins. The lake isn’t dark and gloomy after all. It’s a sanctuary, embracing me like a lover and promising to never let go.

            Then . . .

            Not a spot of silver. Not the roof of an old, battered truck that was already a hundred thousand miles beyond its best days. Instead, I spy a gouge of black appearing, then disappearing amid a field of murky green. I wait for the lake grasses to ripple left, then I see it again, a dark stripe, then another, and another. Four identical shapes resting at the bottom of the lake.