Ashley Johnson suffers a near death tragedy at the hands of a hit man, but she survives. Injured, battered, she pushes
forward, tries to recover normalcy in her day to day affairs, except for one obstacle; she’s forced to mead the broken
lives of two people she’s never meant. Ashley is driven to solve a mystery spurred by the first act of young love. In the
process, her world becomes entangled by second chances, and confused by baffling leads and dark turns, until she
discovers the truth behind what happened at Painters Cliff twelve years ago. The revelations crack her foundation,
engender guilt for the lives affected, and finally threaten her very existence until an unseen element steps in.
Copyright 2010 by Michael W. Davis
Cold, so cold.
Her head throbbed. She tried to straighten, unkink the twist in her back, but there was no room. She opened both eyes and still the darkness remained.
Where am I?
She recalled the butterflies in her stomach like when you ride a roller coaster, then banged her head.
She opened her lips, mouthed the thoughts, yet the words refused to form. She fought to scream, still nothing came out. Only gargling sounds filled her ears.
Then she remembered. Where she was, how she got there. As with every time before, she tried to cry, but the moisture coating her eyes refused to accept her
Lord, please help me. Make this loneliness go away.

“Listen.” The familiar female called from beyond the prison. “She’s moaning.”
She reached upward, kicked at the walls that held her captive and the sheets flew away.
“What’s wrong, doctor? Is she in pain?”
“Not sure.” The male voice suggested, “May be experiencing muscle spasms from being inactive so long.”
No, not a dream. They’re real.
She cracked both eyes, but a veil blocked her view.
“Look, her eyes. Ashley, it’s me, your sister. I’m right here.”
Sister? I have a sister. Yes, of course. “Lilah.” She reached into the mist. “I can’t see. Where are you?”
Cool fingers touched her forehead. “I’m here, Ash. Beside you.” The trembling voice pleaded, “Doctor, what’s wrong with her vision?”
“Head trauma that massive can affect the senses. She’s been unconscious for quite a while. Ms. Johnson, can you hear me?”
“Try to follow the snapping sound with your eyes.”
A series of pops evoked above her head. “Can you see my hand?”
“Something foggy moved left to right but I can’t make out what it is.”
Someone new touched her cheek. “Her vision problem, just temporary, right, Doc?”
Definitely masculine, with hints of encouragement in his curious voice.
I know him, that smell, but where? I remember, the airport.
Ashley grasped his hand, sniffed his palm. “I spy a pilot.”
“What?” asked Reece.
“Just a game we used to play as kids.” Lilah explained. “She was a passenger on your flight from Baltimore. That’s when she first tried to get us together,
“Oh, I see… I think.”
She grabbed the cooler fingers stroking her temple. “Lilah?”
“Yes, Sweetheart. I’m right here. How do you feel?”
“Like crap. I hurt everywhere.”
“Now that you’ve recovered I’ll administer something mild for the pain. Don’t like to use sedatives when a patient is that far under.”
“Under what?”
"You’ve been in a level six coma for some time and were banged up pretty bad. I’ve seen others with your injuries fare far worse.”
“What injuries?”
“You have two broken ribs, several lacerations to the head and face, sub cranial hemorrhaging the first two weeks, and post trauma vision syndrome.”
“What’s that last one mean?”
“Been some damage to your optic nerve, to what degree is uncertain yet.”
“Does that mean you’ll have to operate again?” The tremors in Lilah’s voice were obvious.
“Only as a last resort. Clinical trails indicate other supplements can be as effective, like B12, prednisolone or mannitol. Just need to observe the nature of her
symptoms as she recovers. The fact you’ve recovered so well is amazing. You’re either very stubborn or have unfinished business and weren’t ready to leave
us yet. Considering what could have been, I’d say you’re a lucky young lady.”
“Hey, what happened to my hair?”
“Had to perform a cranial tap to relieve pressure buildup, but I don’t expect we’ll have to repeat the procedure.” The edge of the bed rose as the doctor stood.
“I Have to continue with my other patients and will return tomorrow.  It’s good to see you’ve returned to us, Ms. Johnson, but let’s not push it too far the
first day. You two can stay as long as you want, but only keep her active another ten minutes. I’ll send a nurse in to administer a sedative, and then let her rest.
Sometime later this week I’ll have our eye specialist conduct an exam to diagnose what we can do about her vision.”
A few departing footsteps, the click of a door handle and the familiar sterile scent of a hospital flooded her nostrils. “Why does my butt hurt so much?”
“Doc said the impact of the fall injured your hip joint.” Reece explained. “They popped it back, and cleaned out most of the ripped tissue, that’s why it’s sore.”
She swallowed. “Is the damage permanent?”
“Don’t think so. You’ll limp for a while until it heals, but six months from now, barely notice the difference, least that’s what the orthopedist said. Long as you
don’t injure it again.”
Lilah patted her arm. “Doctor said hard as you hit your rump in the fall, fortunate you didn’t break your spine.”
“That’s just peachy. Face is messed up, my rear’s all bruised, I’m going to limp and my hairs been replaced by fuzz.” The sheet atop her bed shifted as if
being tugged downward, followed by a light tap on her rump.
“Still looks fine to me.” Reece added.
“What happened? Why am I in a hospital?”
“We’re not sure. A hiker found your body below a cliff. Do you know how you fell?”
“No. I—I’m not sure.”
Yes. He shoved me. Threatened to kill Lilah. “He tried to kill me.”
“Scott. Said you were next.” She tightened her grip on Lilah’s hand. “We’ve got to tell the police before he comes for you too.”
Reece squeezed her shoulder. “It’s all right. The bastard’s dead.”
“Your sister wacked him with a load of double ought buck right in the face.”
“Lilah. You did that?”
“Long story. What is it, Ashley? You appear, I don’t know, almost apprehensive.”
“I guess I am, a little.”
“You were always the rock between the two of us, cavalier about everything around you.”
“Ah, hello. Someone just tried to kill me. I think a little precaution is in order.”
A momentary pause before a harmonized chuckle between the other two people in her small world filled the room.
“What, you think that’s funny?”
Lilah grabbed her free hand. “Not at all, it’s just a little ironic that an emotion mom and I tried to encourage since you were a rabble-rousing teenager should
surface now.”
“Lil, think we need to cut her a little slack given all she’s been through. It’s reasonable to expect changes to her maverick wild side after the near-death
experience she endured.”
She turned toward her sister, “Yeah, what he said.” Ashley raised her fist to rub her own cheek but the cast punched her in the nose. “Ouch.”
Reece’s warm fingers pulled her hand down. “Sorry, Sweetheart. Don’t mess with your wounds. They need time to heal.”
“Yeah, but the itching is killing me.”
“Here, let me try a slight massage with my palm.” He moved so close she sensed the heat from his body, inhaled the fragrances of his aftershave. “That
“Yes, much. Thanks.” She tried to sit up until a spur of pain shoot across her body. “Damn. That hurt. Why’s my chest so sore?”
“Your muscles have atrophied given your level of extended inactivity. Plus, like the doc said, you broke several ribs in the fall. Takes time to heal. Hold on.”
Reece placed a small box in her palm. “Use the control instead of your back and torso muscles for a while. Fortunately the person who found you had enough
sense not to move you. Could have worsened your injuries big time.”
“This hiker, man or woman?”
“Definitely a man.” Lilah replied with a titter.
“Handsome as Reece?”
“Hey, I’m still here ladies.”
A new presence swooshed into the room. “Afternoon, everyone. I’m Mrs. Clark. This will just take a moment. Have to inject a little happy juice into Ms.
Johnson’s feeder tube… There we go. Should take affect shortly. Doctor’s orders, you can stay but once the lights go out, let the sandman do his thing. Ah, I
see droopy eyes in our little princess already.”
A few footsteps, the click of a door handle, and the sound of a door slamming shut.
The scent of sterile hospital air had morphed to something damp, stale, like a wet rug stored in a closet and forgotten for months. An infinite chill burned along
her spine. So cold, so deep, there was no life, no death, only isolation, loneliness. She was back, inside the prison, the steel trap that enveloped her body, her
soul away from everyone. Her family, her friends, but especially him.
“No!” She swung her arms, kicked her feet to escape. “Let me out. Please… So cold, so…”
Not real. A dream.
The isolation, the darkness had drawn her back, like before.
“Ashley, stop.” A strong form pressed down against her arms, her chest. “Sweetheart, you’ll rip out your stitches.”
The musky masculine scent, not a stranger holding her prisoner, but a friend, comforting, protecting. “Reece?”
“Don’t let me fall.”
He squeezed tighter. “Sssh, it’s okay, no one’s trying to harm you anymore.”  His warmth transferred along her torso, drove out the chill and she again felt
“What just happened?” Her sister proclaimed.
Lilah’s still there. I never left the room. Just a dream, but so real.
“I don’t know. One second she was peaceful then, well, her expression turned stone cold. Like she was somewhere else, somewhere horrible.” He tried to
release his hold but she pulled him back. “Okay, okay. I won’t let go.”
“I’ll get the doctor,” Lilah insisted.
“No, please don’t leave. Long as you’re here I’m okay.”
“Reece, I don’t like it. Not normal for Ashley to act like this, so frightened.”
“You’ve got to give her time to readjust, Lil.”
“But look at her face. She’s traumatized.”
“As she should be. Probably experiencing nightmares induced by falling so far. It’ll work its way out. I promise.” The pressure of his body released and moist
lips touched her forehead. “Just needs a bunch of TLC.”
“No, don’t go. Please stay.”
“Sweetheart, trust me. One or both of us will be here every minute until you’re released and come home. Right, Lilah?”
Two hands connected with hers while chairs pulled closer from both sides of the bed. “Absolutely.”
She fought the weight tucking at her eyelids, but the sedative took control and returned her to darkness, only this time without the isolation, the chilling cold.
Her prison was gone, replaced by silence, except for a faint rippling sound in the distance.
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