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Every part of Rebecca Morrison seemed to have gone numb.
A chill had crept over her that she'd never experienced before. She had always known what it felt like to be cold, of course, for growing up in New Hampshire meant winters wading through snowbanks and temperatures that sank far below zero. When she was a little girl, she loved those days. Her mother would bundle her up in a thick woolen snowsuit, and put mittens on her hands and a stocking cap on her head, and Rebecca would hurl herself into the snowy paradise outside with an excitement that sometimes made her feel like she would simply burst with joy. She would flop down into the snow, wave her arms and spread her legs, then jump up to admire the angel she had made. Sometimes she'd even leap right into a big drift and bury her face in the cold white cottony fluff because the frozen, wet purity was so refreshing, its aftertingle so deliciously shivery. Best of all were "snow days," when school was closed, grown-ups stayed inside their warm kitchens, and she would go off in search of other kids to play with. Inevitably, she'd wind up in a snowball fight that--equally--required her to shed her mittens since everyone knew you couldn't make a proper snowball with mittens on. By the time the grown-ups came to chase everyone inside, Rebecca's fingers would be freezing, and snow would have worked its way inside her sleeves as well. The cold she'd felt then had been an exciting cold, a happy, carefree cold that always vanished deliciously with a cup of hot cocoa covered with marshmallows, sipped in front of the fire blazing in the living room hearth of her parents' house onMaple Street.
There had been other kinds of cold, though, that hadn't been nearly as much fun.
The cold she'd felt when there weren't enough blankets on the bed and Aunt Martha turned the thermostat low, to save money and save Rebecca's "spendthrift soul."
The icy cold of the first dip into the quarry in spring, when the water was barely above freezing.
The clammy chill when she'd gotten caught in a rainstorm with neither raincoat nor umbrella to protect her from getting soaked through to the skin.
That kind of cold, though, could be banished with an extra comforter, or a thick terry-cloth towel, or a change into dry clothes.
Even the chill of a fever that could rattle her teeth and turn her skin clammy was nothing like what she was feeling now, for even when she'd been in a fever's grip, she always knew it was only a temporary thing, that in a few hours, perhaps even a day, it would pass and she would feel warm again.
The cold she felt now had crept up on her so slowly that she couldn't really remember when it began; indeed, it was as if it had always been there. Every part of her body either had gone so numb that she had no feeling at all or ached with a dull pain, an ache that had burrowed into every muscle, spread through every bone. She wasn't frozen; she knew that. She could still move her arms and legs, still twist her neck and flex her back. But every movement was agonizing, every twitch of every muscle over which she had managed to retain control brought her a new sensation of pain.
The cold had even seeped into her mind, slowing her wits and confusing her so badly that she was no longer sure when she was awake and when she was sleeping; could not determine which of the sensations she felt were real, and which were the products of the dark nightmares that seized her whenever she slept.
It was the cold of death.
Rebecca knew that, knew it with a strange certainty that had grown in her mind until she'd all but given up any hope of surviving the ordeal that began when she'd fled from Germaine Wagner's house.
How long had it been?
She had no idea, for time itself no longer meant anything to her.
Not only was there no longer any distinction between night and day, but the difference between a minute and an hour, a day and a week, a month and a year, had disappeared. An hour might be a lifetime, and a month no more than a minute.
It didn't matter, for in the world into which Rebecca had plummeted--if it was this world at all--there was no longer any time.
The cold of the grave.
There were times when she thought she must have died, when the darkness around her was so deep that she knew she must be buried in the earth. But then some brief sensation would penetrate the numbing cold; a sound perhaps, or a sharp twinge of pain that would rouse her, however briefly, from the strange not-quite-sleep into which she'd sunk.
For a while she tried to keep track of the passing time, tried to count the seconds that had turned into small eternities, but even that had become impossible, for there was no way to remember how many seconds she'd counted, no way to mark the passing minutes and hours.
The Tormentor--that was how she thought of her captor now, as almost an abstraction of a being, rather than a man with a face hidden by darkness and a personality concealed by silence. The Tormentor came and went, and Rebecca had long since ceased to feel any reaction to him.
Not even apprehension anymore.
At first, in a time grown dim and distant in her memory, she had feared his coming, her heart pounding when she heard his scraping step or even sensed his presence when no sound betrayed that he was there.
He brought her food and water, though, for which she was grateful, though his whispered words made her flesh crawl no less than did his touch. But as the cold had tunneled deeper within her mind and her body and her spirit, Rebecca even stopped thinking about what it might be that he wanted from her, what reason he might have had for bringing her here.
Now, as her mind rose slowly out of the black pit of sleep, and the cold-induced nightmares loosened their grip, she sensed that he was there once more. It was nothing in the darkness that betrayed his presence; no sound of footsteps or rasping breath, no whispered words murmured in her ear, no touch of gloved fingers on her flesh.
Only a sense that she was not alone.
Then there was a minute lessening of the darkness, and like a flower turning toward the sun, she found herself turning her head, an involuntary groping for the source of the faint brightening that slightly grayed her world of darkness.
Then there was a new sensation.
Arms were picking her up. As she was lifted off the floor on which she lay, every nerve and muscle in her body screamed in protest, and a cry of anguished agony rose in her throat.
For an instant she tried to open her mouth to give vent to the erupting scream, but a tearing pain in her lips reminded her of the tape that covered her mouth. With a surge of sudden determination she managed to control her scream before it could back up in her throat, choke and strangle her and make her retch, and fill her mouth and nose with burning bile. As the wave of pain crashed over her and finally began to ebb, her cry of agonized protest emerged as nothing more than a stifled and sighing moan.
Held tightly in the Tormentor's grasp, she felt herself being carried out of the room that had been her prison, and though she could see nothing through the tape blindfold, she had a sense of walls that were close at hand on either side, and knew with an instinctive certainty that she was being borne down a long corridor. The Tormentor's pace changed, and Rebecca had a vague sensation of rising.
Stairs! She was being carried up a flight of stairs.
Another corridor, but, oddly, she sensed that this one was wider than the other, that the spaces here were larger. But how could she know? The darkness around her was only a nearly imperceptible shade lighter than the blackness into which she'd been sunk for so long.
And yet something was different.
Something had changed.
Something was about to happen.