“Did your Dad call?” she asked casually.
Stokes shook his head. “Since he’s been living with that woman he doesn’t have time for me. This is the fifth time he’s cancelled.”
Stokes was trying to appear nonchalant but she knew him too well for that. His parents had split up when he was seven years old, and he hadn’t seen his father in almost two years. Stokes had been the child of a single parent a lot longer than she had. He was brave, Jamie knew, but you could only be brave for so long until it began to wear you down.
“You’ve still got me,” she said, wondering if that would be of any comfort.
He grinned and slung his arm around her shoulder. “I can’t get rid of you. You’re like a super-engineered virus or something. Keeps me on my toes.”
They were on their way to Café Rio for their usual Saturday morning ritual of coffee and a sandwich. They liked to stroll beside the water together. They did it almost every weekend. Stokes wouldn’t ask her about the dreams, not until she said something herself. He was gracious like that.
“This one was about teeth,” she said, matter-of-fact.
“Teeth? Of what?”
She frowned at him. “That’s a good question, man. It spoke in a woman’s voice. It reminded me of my mum. I was really scared.”
Stokes looked concerned, but nudged her playfully. “Intense.”
“So, maybe you should speak to Ryan about it. Your dad’s pretty much an expert on this stuff after all; mysticism, dreams, psychic phenomena. He researches it, and the whole time he’s got a case-study right here.”
Stokes never teased her about her ‘feelings’. He was one of the most open-minded people in her young life.
“Dad already knows,” she said, trying not to sigh. “What can he do except pump me full of drugs again?”
“Jamie, he loves you more than anything in the world.”
She smiled and stared at the grey pavement passing beneath them. “I know.”
About fifty feet ahead of them a man walking his dog kept yanking on the lead to stop his pet from getting too close to the canal’s edge. The man froze suddenly, peering down at something in the water.
The dog started yelping like crazy. Jamie and Stokes glanced at each other and began jogging towards them. Maybe they needed help. The man fiercely pulled his dog away and raced across the street, a look of terror on his face. He disappeared out of sight down a side road.
They hurried to where the man had been peering down. A frightened gasp came from deep in Stokes’ chest. “No way…”
Down in the shallow water there was a naked woman hunched over in the canal. Her skin was so pale it was almost the colour of milk. Her wet black hair had fallen forward, obscuring her face. For a moment Jamie thought she was seeing a ghost, but there was blood swirling red in the water around her. Then the woman’s head tilted sharply and they both saw her face. Her eyes were as black as her hair. A chill skittered across Jamie’s shoulders.
“Oh my God,” she murmured in disbelief.
Like a wraith the woman rose to her feet and Jamie’s stomach twisted. The woman’s wrists had both been slashed, crimson running down her palms. Blood was also seeping quickly from between her legs, snaking its way down her thighs, making fat droplets in the water.
“Help me, Jamie,” the woman begged in a voice that sounded frighteningly normal.
Stokes rushed forward, peering over the handrail. “Oh, who did…who did this to you? Hang on!”
He vaulted the rail, landing in the canal with a massive splash. The water only reached to just below his knees. He quickly regained his balance and trudged towards the wounded woman. He tore off his jacket and threw it around her pale wet shoulders.
He peered back up at Jamie. “Call an ambulance! She’s still bleeding really fast! Oh my God...”
Jamie tore her mobile phone from her jacket pocket, her heart pounding with fear at the strangeness of what was happening. But before she could even dial 999 the little phone started fizzing and smoking impossibly in her hand. It was suddenly hot and she dropped it instinctively. It flared with sparks on the pavement and was dead.
Something inside Jamie went ice-cold. A part of her wanted to cry. Instead she started screaming, “Somebody! Somebody help us! Anyone!”
She peered back over the rail and saw the woman had collapsed against Stokes. He was struggling to drag her back towards the guardrail.
“I think she’s dying, Jamie! Oh man, this isn’t happening….this is not happening!”
“My phone’s dead!” cried Jamie, “There’s no one around; I don’t know what to do!”
The naked woman tumbled from her friend’s grip and fell face down in the water. For a moment Stokes just stared at her like she was a floating corpse. He was shaking all over. His wet clothes were smeared with the woman’s blood. Suddenly he snapped back to reality and kneeled down, yanking her face back above the surface, cradling her as though she were a child.
“Damn it, Jamie, I don’t think she’s breathing…”
Jamie turned and saw a blue car coming down the road that ran parallel to the canal. Her heart was still banging inside her chest. She had to do something. She raced out into the middle of the street, waving her arms wildly at the driver. “Stop the car!”
For a split-second Jamie realised she’d made a bad mistake. She heard the screech of rubber tires grinding the road before the car ploughed into her, bouncing her off the bonnet like a rag-doll. There was a flash of lightning through her whole body. Then there was nothing but blackness.