The corpse grabbed her arm with cool fingers.
Grace Harmony said, “Oh, no, not again."
Her heart pounded as an icy chill sprinted along her bones. Her face went hot and her soul went cold.
Only one day to go to her thirtieth birthday and it would all be done. If she could have avoided the dead, she wouldn't have to do this again.
The room took on an out of focus look as if she were squinting. She blinked it away.
Her gaze trudged down to look at the pale, mottled hand grasping her wrist and she shuddered as much from the cold as what she knew would happen next. A sigh escaped her, then she took a deep breath, the antiseptic hospital smell filling her nostrils. “What?"
The lifeless woman's eyes flipped open. “Help." Her voice came out as hollow and raspy, a lone word uttered in a subway underpass. As if someone had dragged nails down a blackboard, Grace cringed. The chill moving along her skeleton, settled in the marrow. The shivering wouldn't start. She'd just be cold.
There would be no relief.
She glanced at the door. No one came to save her. No one even walked by in such a busy emergency department.
If only she hadn't left her clipboard with the patient. Her partner had gone to the bathroom. The nurses were all working another code. No one could save her from entering the room and being alone with a dead person.
She'd drawn in a breath to gather her strength, then plunged into the green-tiled room.
Giving the corpse a wide berth, she'd spotted the clipboard on a table next to the bed.
In the brief instant she came close, the woman had reached for her. Grace was the dead person's only connection to the living.
But only for one more day. Only until her birthday.
Her gaze snapped back to the dead woman. She lay inert on blood-stained white sheets. Her eyes held no sparkle nor any clue to the person she had been.
All the moisture in Grace's mouth evaporated. “Let me guess. You've been murdered."
Despite knowing this already, she asked anyway. Dead people only spoke to her if they'd been killed. If she knew a way out of this situation she'd use it.
She hoped this would be the last time. Without confidence, she promised herself this victim would be the last.
“Yes," the corpse said, the last part sounding like a snake.
The noise sent a shudder through Grace's body, but only briefly. Talking to dead bodies had ceased to scare her.
Dragging in a ragged breath, Grace braced herself for the time slip, the trek down the dark tunnel. No white light waited at the end for her. “What's your name?"
Colors danced and flashed before Grace's eyes as if they were a precursor to a migraine. Numbness deadened her limbs. She catapulted down a black shaft, only the passing of lights indicated movement. Her breath caught in her throat as her nose filled with a burning electrical scent. A sneeze that would have relieved her didn't come.
Something squeezed her body, but not for long. Then she slammed into a wall and she was back in time.
Grace's skin warmed, her eyes tearing from the bright sun, the tunnel gone. Blinded for a moment she looked around for any clues to her location. Any ideas as to the day and date.
She'd learned to adapt at a moment's notice.
Grace shook the inevitable fog from her brain and scoped out her surroundings. Sunny day. Driveway of some house. Maybe a week or so before Dolores died she estimated. That had been the last time the rain hadn't fallen.
The details would come in clearer as she adjusted her focus.
She'd been down this street, twice. The first time looking for an address in her pursuit of a new apartment. Something had distracted her and she'd never made contact with the landlady. Was that where she was now?
She'd been here during the fire that supposedly killed Dolores.
Grace turned to the voice and found the dead woman. Very much alive. No evidence of the fatal fire that had charred her skin and taken the breath from her lungs. Relief washed over her as Grace realized where she was and why.
Grace schooled her face not to show the surprise that culled a hitch in her breath. Usually she didn't come face to face with the victim as soon as she rewound.
Coughing, Grace wiped her eyes. “Sorry, got something in my eye and I missed what you just said."
“You pay rent and utilities. My ex-husband can fix most things so I'll give you his number, if anything goes wrong. Shouldn't, I just put new appliances in there."
“Can I call you Dolores?"
The woman c****d her head and a lock of auburn hair fell into her face. Her brown eyes narrowed, and one hand found her hip. “That's my name, but I don't remember telling you."
Grace smiled, which put most people at ease. “You introduced yourself right off."
Dolores nodded. “I guess I did." She patted her flat stomach. “I'm pregnant so I think I'm losing my memory already."
She'd said ex-husband, but mentioned nothing about her current husband. No one at the fire scene had told Grace about Dolores' pregnancy. Maybe the neighbors hadn't realized.
Confusion had her clearing her throat, her head spinning. The world leaned and Grace widened her stance for stability.
“So rent and utilities. I can handle that."
“You got a job?" Dolores asked.
Back to details. She'd used them as a fishing rod to pull in her swimming emotions. Grace knew less about Dolores than she should have known.
The ground steadied as Grace formed her answer. These facts were concrete. She shuffled her feet anyway, her discomfort a too hot sweater around her body. “Yes, I do. I'm a paramedic for Centre Community Hospital."
“You new in town?"
Tension stabbed her muscles.