Prologue: The Calm Before the Storm
May 5th, 1998
The man watched his victim from a safe distance. Megan Summers. She was smaller than most women, but he was drawn to the full, classic hourglass shape of her body. Sharing in that classic sensibility was her face: high cheek bones, a tapered chin, and a thin nose. Megan’s face was framed by auburn hair with a fiery tinge to it, her light brown eyes complemented the color. He well remembered the passion that swirled in those brown orbs.
Megan was at her car, and had begun to load groceries into the trunk. Time to make his move.
A storm was coming. It hadn’t arrived yet, but the welcome spring heat had disappeared with the sun, and the gray clouds rolling in brought with them a slight breeze that chilled flesh upon contact. The air held the distinct smell and taste of a storm: sweet, pungent, with a zing to the nostrils that left no mistake to where it came from.
The man approached in a trench coat, his hat pulled low as he pushed his empty cart toward the carriage. Given the weather, he was not all that unusually dressed. Then again, he wore sunglasses as well, and they did seem a bit odd, but it wasn’t odd enough for anyone to take notice. Everyone was too busy trying to get home before the rain began.
Megan was talking to someone on the phone as she hefted two bags into the trunk. Quickly, the man sidled up to her, took out a small aerosol can, and sprayed the air around her face. The can disappeared back into the depths of his coat as though it had never been there.
“What the... ?” Megan managed to whisper before her eyes turned glassy.
The man watched the chemical go to work, watched Megan’s brown eyes, full of fire and passion, of life and intelligence, become little more than mirrors to the world around them. Acting swiftly, the man shoved his cart toward the carriage return and let momentum handle the rest. He moved in as though he were helping Megan, taking the bags and placing them in the trunk.
“You want my help,” the man whispered, “...it’s been a long day.”
The voice, the man’s voice was familiar. Megan recognized it, or, felt like she did. Her thoughts were moving like molasses, making it difficult for her to summon up any other thought, let alone compare them against one another. The voice was familiar, but she couldn’t match it to a face, to a name.
“T-thank you,” Megan stuttered. It was only a momentary thing, if the man hadn’t known what to look for, he would have missed it. A flicker of life sputtered past Megan’s glassy gaze, the will to fight, but then it faded back into the dark depths of her pupils as she slid back into acceptance. “It’s been a long day.”
The man nodded. “Good.”
For the next couple of minutes, the man slowly helped Megan to load groceries into the car. Using the activity as a cover, he whispered to Megan the entire time. He kept stealing glances at people passing by. If anyone had been watching, it would have seemed paranoid, but everyone else was busy, they didn’t care to give him, or Megan, any attention.
“You’re tired. You’re going to go home. Bring your groceries inside, put them away, and then go to bed.”
Megan nodded, her brow creasing as she considered the man’s words. Her thoughts remained sluggish, and it was difficult for her to get up any energy to fight them. She was going to watch a movie, wasn’t she? She had bought Triple Chocolate ice cream to curl up with. The movie, the ice cream, they both suddenly felt very unimportant. She was tired, very tired. Better to bring the groceries home, put them away, and go to bed.
“This storm will likely remind you of Jake,” the man continued, “let it. Dwell on it. Remember Jake in all the ways you loved him.”
The name flashed through Megan’s memory as though a red light of alarm had gone off through her consciousness. In truth, thoughts of Jake were never far from whatever she was thinking. Over a year had gone by, but she still caught herself thinking about him at least half a dozen times a day.
The thunderstorm would likely have reminded her of him anyways, every thunderstorm did. However, now her mind made a mental note to ensure she would.
As the man loaded the last bag into her trunk, he whispered, “Drive home. By the time you reach the exit of this parking lot, you’ll come to. You will not remember that any of this happened.”
With that, the man took her cart to return it to the other carriages. Megan stood there for a moment as the man walked away, processing. Then, without even a natural hesitation, she reached up and closed her trunk, as though she had just finished loading it. Her cart was gone, but she remembered putting it away.
Megan’s blue Jetta pulled out of the lot, the man stood there and watched until he could no longer see it from the rest of the traffic. Only the voice of an older woman behind him stirred him from whatever thought occupied his mind.
“Excuse me,” she said, her voice trembling but audible, “do you think you could put this away for me?”
The man turned and looked at the woman. Her back was hunched slightly, she wore thick glasses, and her curly white hair was only an inch or two long. She was the spitting image of someone’s grandmother, or, perhaps, great grandmother. She smiled at him.
Turning on his charm, he said, “Of course.”
Taking the cart from the woman, who had already begun to totter toward her car, the man looked vainly to spot the Jetta, but it was gone, and Megan with it. If he had been a less confident man, he would have worried about whether or not his instructions had taken hold. But he wasn’t a less confident man. This wasn’t his first rodeo.
A storm was coming, he had a date that he didn’t want to miss.