Bloodline Page 1

Author: Jess Lourey

Genres: Thriller , Horror



A woman’s scream wakes me.

I whip my head and—hunh—pain ricochets, a blistering agony. My skin’s been peeled off, my bones scraped clean.


Where’s the pain coming from?


Move slowly.

Blink. Blink again.

I’m lying down.

The room. I recognize it. Crown molding. Walls painted lemon. A dresser and next to it a vanity, both in matching oak. The heat is oppressive, the air thick as wool. And the smell. Sweet Jesus. It’s turgid and salty, the rank odor of a heaving animal, cornered, at the end of the hunt.

Get out.

I try to move, but my legs are strapped down.

Or paralyzed.

My breath catches—lord please no—and even that tiny movement amplifies the stabbing torment, but (the struggle makes me weep) . . . I can move my toes. At least I think I can. I must see to believe. I raise my head just enough, swallowing against the brown-green waves of nausea, my eyelids flapping to hold the pain at bay.

I cling to consciousness, promising myself that I am me, that I know things.

I’m Joan Harken. I’m a reporter.

My neck trembles with the effort of holding up my head. Triple images condense to double, and then the vertigo passes, and I can see. A leg pokes outside the bed coverings, a slab of white against the blue-and-red quilt.

My leg. Toes wiggling.

I’m not paralyzed.

This smallest sip of relief is immediately swamped by a sudden clarion panic.

Something’s missing.

The missing is crucial, I know this in my scraped-raw bones, but what is it?

My head drops onto the pillow, skin fish-clammy. I must check the contours of my body, locate the absence. I drag my other leg, the one still tucked under the quilt, a few inches to the side, and the scratch of sheets against flesh assures me.

I have two legs.

I struggle my arms out from beneath the blanket, hold them up, study them as if they belong to someone else. They’re unmarked despite the deep ache at their centers. I wave my fingers, a magician about to perform a trick. They work.

I probe my head. It’s tender, logy but unmarked.

Good. I need my head.

A wheeze, a sort of laugh, hikes my chest, but the motion sets cold worms of nausea squirming across my flesh. I must move slowly, or I’ll black out.

Gently, inch by inch, my hands slip beneath the quilt and travel south.

They find my breasts. Swollen and aching. Damp.


Except . . . their peculiar pain licks at something, sharp and bloody.

What is it?

Farther south. My hands don’t want to go there, they’re hot with pushback, but a morbid need to know forces them.

They reach my stomach.

It’s soft, quaggy.


My baby is no longer inside.

That’s when I understand.

I am the woman screaming.


Minnesota, 1968

“They’re going to love you, Joanie.”

I smile at my fiancé, grab his hand. Pray that he’s right. It’s been so sudden, this move. My editors had passed me over for the promotion. That same day, Dr. King was murdered in Memphis, where he’d traveled to march peacefully for the rights of mostly Negro sanitation workers.

The nation descended into chaos.

In DC, marines guarded the Capitol steps with machine guns while buildings were torched. Baltimore’s protests overwhelmed the National Guard. Paratroopers and artillerymen were called in. Cincinnati fell under siege, and Chicago’s West Side burned. Decades of festering tension, fueled by black poverty and racism and war resistance, exploded to the surface.

Getting mugged had been the final kick.

Let’s move to Lilydale. Deck’s words the night of the mugging were soothing, his face bright. He held me as I cried, releasing me only to clean my wounds. We’ll be sheltered there, safe from the world. Promise. You won’t believe how perfect it is.

I didn’t agree right away, not by a long shot, but then he mentioned preserving his life by avoiding the draft—his dad was the head of the county draft board and had the power to save Deck from Vietnam; he was also mayor of Lilydale, a postcard-perfect town as Deck described it, nestled two and a half hours northwest of Minneapolis—and what could I say?

I’m sitting on one leg as I grip Deck’s hand, perched in the Chevelle’s passenger seat, hurtling toward my new home, a place I’ve never been. My cat is curled on my lap, and with my free hand, I’m caressing the itchy stab wounds through my pantyhose. Leftovers from the mugging. They’re angry red scabs, halfway to healed. They weren’t deep, and if not for them, and for Deck’s reaction, the mugging would have already faded into the shadows of my mind. Why dwell on what you can’t change?

Deck was shocked, though, horrified, swore that strangers didn’t assault women in his hometown. Lilydale was peaceful, friendly. Everyone knew everyone, looked out for one another. The world outside might scream and swirl like a tornado, but Lilydale floated in a bubble, outside of time, as safe as a smile. The town even had a newspaper, Deck said. The Lilydale Gazette. I might finally get my byline.

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