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Length:
646 pages
10 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Apr 7, 2021
ISBN:
9781005620042
Format:
Book

Description

Only nightmares come true.

Cara Camden is a child star. Her face is on every television, every magazine, every newspaper. But she’s not there because of her movies. She’s there because she is the only witness and sole survivor of one of the most gruesome murders in Hollywood history.

Journalists, paparazzi, friends and acquaintances – everyone wants to console her. Everyone wants a sound bite. But Cara can’t tell anyone what really happened, what she really saw. If she did, they might blame her, as she blames herself.

How does someone who grows up in the spotlight hide her darkest secret?

Dreams continues the saga begun in Weston, Joe, and Freshmankind – the fourth chapter of Gregory Attaway’s The Great Ones. It’s a story of survival and recovery. Loss and hope. True love.

Everyone has dreams. But for Cara Camden, they’re all she has.

Publisher:
Released:
Apr 7, 2021
ISBN:
9781005620042
Format:
Book

About the author

Gregory Attaway lives in Irving, Texas (a suburb of Dallas), which suits his literary leanings well since the city is supposedly named for Washington Irving, famed writer of Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. He has lived in and around Dallas for most of his life, having also lived briefly on both coasts. A graduate of the University of North Texas, Gregory lives with his two dogs, Cara and Lois, and his imaginary friends.A writer since the second grade, Gregory’s completed projects include The Glen Headwood Show – exclusively available for free to subscribers to his e-mail list. Sign up at www.gregoryattaway.com!He has written three other books in The Great Ones series – Weston, Joe, and Freshmankind. The fourth book, Dreams, will be released on December 26, 2018. It started as a series of six screenplays written in the early 2000s, and there are more books coming in the next few years.Other stories are in the works as well. For information on upcoming releases and other updates, make sure to sign up for his e-mail list (and grab your free book).Feel free to follow him on Twitter, get in touch with him on Facebook, or send him an e-mail (through his website). He looks forward to hearing from you, and will answer all e-mails personally.


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Dreams - Gregory Attaway

Dreams

by

Gregory Attaway

The girl will change the meaning of the word.

The Great Ones

Part IV

DREAMS Copyright © 2018 by Gregory Attaway.

All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

Cover Photography: Images used under license from stock.adobe.com

For information or contact, go to www.gregoryattaway.com

First Edition: December 2018

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2

Years

FEBRUARY 2, 1990

Part I Nightmares

Part II Visions

Part III Dreams

NOW AVAILABLE

The Glen Headwood Show

The Great Ones Prelude

It’s not a sitcom. It’s an experiment.

1964. Benny Camden and his friends leave the University of Southern California with their newly minted master’s degrees and a project that was the talk of the campus. The Glen Headwood Show is fresh. It’s new. It defies genre and rifles praise from its critics. Is it a talk show? Variety? Sketch comedy? Drama? One thing it’s not: on television.

Now he wants to sell it to a network, and that’s when reality sets in. It’s not that no one is interested. It’s that Hollywood wants to commercialize his vision, and to see it come true he may have to give up the things that made the show great.

At what point does a dream turn into a disaster?

Before Weston, there was Benny Camden. The Glen Headwood Show is the prelude to Gregory Attaway’s The Great Ones, and it is available for free, now and always, at gregoryattaway.com. See the boy before you see the man.

Get your copy right now!

Available For Free Forever

REVIEWS!

Reviews are the lifeblood of writers. Like the book? Hate it? Either way, if you have time, a quick review wherever you placed your purchase would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you!

To Tim and Robin

Thanks for everything!

I want to offer a special thanks to my beta readers and proofreaders for helping me present the story I truly wanted to tell:

Millie Muzyka

Matt Beezo Beasley

Krystal Sanders

Arielle Brookes

February 2, 1990

Deep into the night, the Camden mansion stood still and silent.

Ben slept on the left side of the bed in the master suite, which opened into the top floor along the oak banisters of the staircase and looked down into the white marble of the main foyer two stories below. The right side was empty, awaiting the return of his wife, at dawn, from her trip to Chicago. Cara slept as well, a floor beneath him. Her slumber was clean and dreamless, fingers curling and uncurling beneath her pillow.

On the first floor, the old pine grandfather clock, a gift to the family from Jack Warner, announced the passing of another hour from the recesses of the den. Outside, a few leaves floated on the surface of the swimming pool in which Joseph Yule Jr. first met Francis Gumm, before they were ever Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland. Cara’s pony, Romeo, nibbled at his leg, trying to get comfortable amidst the sticks of brittle hay in the creaking stable where pickup shots had been filmed for National Velvet.

On the other side of the house, a soft wind blew old grass clippings out like earthly constellations across the white wood floor of the gazebo by the garden, the same gazebo featured in the finale of Identrix, Ben Camden’s directorial debut.

Along the empty sidewalk of Camden Drive, hands went to work with skill and care. In a matter of minutes, the gate to the estate, which had stood longer than most of the houses in Beverly Hills, swung open and limp in the night breeze. A pair of shoes padded across the pebbles of the driveway. A silhouette moved toward the hibernating house that had sheltered generations of the Camden family.

Two gloves worked the metal. The lock jostled, twitched, and clicked, and the seventy-year-old front double doors swung open into the grand foyer, rendered as useless as the gate. The alarm system’s warning beeps were muted by the poor acoustics, and a few quick keystrokes silenced it. Two eyes probed the darkness of the mansion. Two feet disappeared into its black hallways.

Minutes later, the lights came on in the kitchen.

-

Get up.

Ben blinked away the slumber. Cara? he asked, voice stiff.

Get up.

In an instant he was wide awake, leaping to his feet as the light clicked on. A man, face hidden behind a red ski-mask, stood at the foot of the bed, brandishing a pistol. Black shirt, no jacket. Tall. Thin. Steady. Ben just stared for a moment, the reality of the situation keeping him from doing anything rash.

Hands up.

He obeyed, thoughts flying to Cara. Whatever happened, he couldn’t say or do anything to reveal he was not alone in the house. What do you want? he asked. Fear emptied him of strength, but he took a breath, moved slowly.

The man threw a pair of handcuffs on the bed. Behind your back. His voice was gravel.

Who are you? Ben asked, following the instructions. His hands hung at the bottom of his spine, locked. Cara, wake up, he thought. Wake up and run.

Go downstairs, the man instructed. To the kitchen.

Ben didn’t even look in the direction of Cara’s room when they hit the second story. He moved calmly, steadily.

The lights were on as they entered the kitchen, its marble floor spotless, the matching countertops neat and orderly. Several lengths of rope had been dropped in a pile, and one was laid out in a line. Sit down, the man ordered. Ben obliged, legs outstretched and eyes on the barrel of the gun. The man looped the rope, binding his ankles. He put down the weapon and used both hands to finish tying. As soon as the gun was clear, Ben lunged with both feet, trying to kick it away and strike a blow to the man’s face. The intruder reacted, crushing Ben’s nose with his heel.

Ben fell to the floor, shuddering from the blow, nostrils filling with blood. He made no further attempt to fight back as the intruder recovered himself and returned to finishing off his legs.

The man took another, longer piece of rope, looping it through the floor-length handles of the stainless steel refrigerator’s double doors and through Ben’s useless arms. He was strapped hard, back uncomfortable and cold through his pajama top against those curves of metal. He could move his knees, but nothing else. Ben fought to remain calm, reasoning that after going to all this trouble, maybe the intruder didn’t intend to kill him.

Fear tightened in his lungs when the man laid a third piece of rope on the floor, then he retrieved the gun and retreated into the dark hallways.

Ben pulled at his bonds, but they wouldn’t give. He took quick gasps through his mouth. He couldn’t see much from his vantage point, searching for something, anything that could help him. A scream would be useless – Cara wouldn’t hear him from the kitchen. And there was still a chance that she’d be overlooked.

Dear God, he prayed. Do whatever you want with me. Take my life if you have to. But please don’t take my girl.

-

Get up.

Cara awoke to the strange voice and saw the human shape in the shadows. She sensed the room had been invaded. She’d dreamed something like this many times, each phantom with a different shape, a different face. Her skin flushed with cold and her lungs seized as the silhouette turned on the lights, and the red of the ski-mask burned her retinas.

Who are you? she asked, and it was the voice she had in nightmares. Hoarse, deep, masculine. The whole room took on the same crimson shade as his mask.

Get up.

He leveled the gun, and every sense in her body came alive and alert. Her mind collected every piece of information about the moment: the cool temperature of the air, the thin black lines tracing the curve of his mask, the loose laces of his sneakers, the rocky pitch of his voice. Don’t hurt me! she said, covering her face, hoping she could erase him.

Get up.

She stood, her nightgown with the angel on it covering her from neck to ankle. He threw a pair of handcuffs on the bed. Behind your back. She cried with bewilderment, hoping any moment she would awaken, as she had from countless other nightmares. But the steel bit into her wrists, cold and real.

Downstairs. To the kitchen. His fierce brown eyes watched her every movement. She would never forget those eyes. Not ever.

-

Ben heard Cara’s gentle sobs drawing near. Every muscle tensed, but all his struggle couldn’t budge him an inch. She entered the kitchen, hands cuffed, and the man came in right after her.

Daddy? she cried.

It’s going to be all right, he said, not believing it for a moment. I promise.

Minutes later Cara was bound to the bar of the oven with stiff, unforgiving rope, facing Ben across the room. The intruder had their constant attention as he turned one of the burners on the stove to its highest setting and lifted the tea kettle. He took it to the sink and turned the knob. Water poured from the faucet as he tilted the kettle beneath the stream.

What are you going to do? Ben asked, feigning calm for Cara’s sake.

The man set the kettle on the heating burner without a word. He turned from father to daughter, slowly, then left them with the clatter of his shoes on the marble as he disappeared into the house.

Are you all right? Ben asked. Cara nodded through her soft whimpers, each one filling him with more helplessness. What do you want with us? he shouted. Whatever it is, you can have it! Nothing. They sat in silence until the pot whistled, boring into their ears. Invasive. The sound became synonymous with the intruder’s presence.

It stung their senses for over a minute, a sonic torture session. The intruder returned with slow, calm steps, as if he belonged there. In one gloved hand he clutched a purple can of Lysol. He opened his other hand, revealing a box of matches so they could both see it, as if this was some kind of performance. Those two things, together, clicked in Ben’s mind. He froze against the refrigerator door, and as fast as his heart was pounding, he couldn’t feel it. Not when he began to realize what was coming.

The man knelt beside Ben, holding the Lysol. Ben shot a glance at Cara, hanging from her shoulders and gasping against the rope. Cara, shut your eyes, he said, but she wasn’t listening. The intruder held the top of the can inches over Ben’s legs and pressed down on the nozzle. The liquid sprayed out, first teasing his pajama bottoms with moisture like weak morning dew, but he moved the can back and forth, from Ben’s waist to his ankles, each pass saturating the cloth until it clung to his legs, puddling and cold. The sterile fragrance of fresh linen filled his bloody nostrils. Cara, shut your eyes! he said again, but she didn’t blink.

The can spat air, and the intruder dropped it, clattering to the marble with a hollow timbre. Please don’t, Ben whispered as the teapot’s song bored into his senses with the scent of the Lysol. The intruder pulled three matches from the little box, one at a time, again presenting them as if this was a show. He struck them together against the back of the box, each match head erupting in miniature flames with a sinister hiss. The three pulses of light caught him like the hypnotic horn of a snake charmer, three trails of smoke growing stronger as the black scorching spread across the wood.

Cara, shut your eyes! he shouted.

With deliberate movement, the intruder dropped the matches onto Ben’s legs. Ben expected the flames to shoot off in different directions, but faster than he could see, the three became one, enveloping his thighs in searing heat and blinding light, rushing down his shins to his ankles until he could feel nothing above the waist, and below that his pain sensors were going into overdrive, shutting down like overloaded circuit breakers.

Daddy! Cara gasped, the word catching in her throat. He barely heard her over the roar of the fire and his own agonizing scream echoing across the marble, against the walls.

The black smoke that choked out the flames, and his breathing, didn’t cut off his vision, and he caught glimpses of Cara’s face contorting with panic, her mouth wide, lips twisting. Through the torment, the whine of the teapot ceased. The intruder pulled the plug from the spout, and again imbuing his actions with theatrical flair, he tilted it down until the boiling water poured out, snuffing the flames in lines, in patterns, steam mixing with the smoke, wet and dry at the same time. He tilted it further, moving back and forth as he had with the Lysol, until the pot was empty and the flames were gone.

Had he been naked, the scalding water would have run off to the ground. Instead it replaced the flames, clinging to him and searing away the remnants of his skin. He kicked, ropes ripping into his arms as he struggled. He was melting.

As his screams faded to gasps of helpless anguish, Ben watched Cara’s eyes follow the intruder. The masked man observed them for a moment in silence, taking pleasure in his work, then with a slow, peaceful stroll, he left the kitchen again.

Daddy… Cara whimpered.

-

HE made sporadic appearances over the next several hours, each time returning with some new plaything to use against them. Cara had coughed all the smoke out of her lungs by the time HE knelt over her daddy again, brandishing a pair of pliers that caught the light just right and reflected it into her eyes. She blinked it away as HE lifted her daddy’s weak hand and placed the mouth of the pliers against his thumb. HE turned to her again, as if she were HIS audience, then squeezed, harder and harder until she heard the splintering of the bone like a lobster claw in a seafood cracker. HE snapped the other nine fingers as well, each time eliciting less of a response from her daddy. He blinked with half-open eyes, and she knew any minute he would pass out from the pain.

The ropes had sawed into her skin by the time HE came in with the heavy duty flashlight, clicking it on and off, holding her daddy’s eyes open inches from the burning bulb. Her throat was numb from crying and screaming when HE slipped the plastic bag over her daddy’s head, and she watched him struggle to breathe, the bag sucking up into his mouth like a vacuum. HE would pull it away and her daddy would gasp for air, then HE would slide it back down again, holding it in place.

Every moment burned itself into her brain, as hot as the fire and water that had seared her father’s skin. Every new torture brought screams and whimpers as she begged this man not to hurt him. HIS response was always to turn and leave. HE could be in any room, and HE could return at any moment.

The bar on the oven door dug into the back of her head as she pressed herself against it, watching her daddy writhe. The cold marble of the kitchen floor ate through the thin fabric of her nightgown, and she thought she could still see steam hovering in the air around his knees. Daddy? She could still hear the teapot whistling, the Lysol can and matches hissing.

I love you. His voice cracked, and she couldn’t bear to look at him any more than she could bear to look away. Do you know that?

Daddy!

You are so beautiful, he said. She blinked the tears from her eyes, amazed she hadn’t run dry.

Their voices fell silent at HIS return. HE slid a kitchen knife from the caddy on the counter and stood over her daddy, as HE had so many times already. And then HE turned to Cara. The ticking of the clock stopped. Her father’s gasping halted. Slow, intentional footsteps pounded her eardrums like gongs as the animal approached her.

Don’t do it, her daddy begged from where he hung, legs withered and useless. I’ll give you anything you want. Just don’t hurt my daughter. Please don’t hurt her!

The man knelt as Cara’s nostrils flared. She picked up HIS scent, an aroma she couldn’t quite place. Her eyes focused, taking in every still frame. HE put the knife to her throat.

Don’t do it! her daddy screamed.

The blunt of the blade pressed against her skin, as cold as the handcuffs, sliding from her jaw to her shoulder. Her nightgown tugged and pulled on her as the sharp edge tore into it. The jagged ripping of the cloth filled her ears as he cut it all the way down. The garment fell to the floor beneath her as she lay before the invader, naked and helpless. She pressed herself against the oven as if she could escape if she pushed hard enough. She breathed in loud and stilted gulps of Lysol and burned flesh.

The man removed his gloves. She could sense something from HIM that repulsed her. The intruder hungered for her somehow. HE reached out and put HIS coarse white hands on her naked, twelve-year-old body, and she jolted against the floor. The sensation of HIS fingers made her recoil. HE took his time, exploring her like an infant with a new toy. HE slid his hands against her and caressed her flesh, tracing the budding curves of her breasts. The pink tip of HIS tongue protruded from the mask, gracing her nipple, and HE shuddered with delight, letting out a low grunt of satisfaction. HE inhaled, HIS nose nuzzling her chest. Smelling her. HIS fingers moved again, down her skin, along the rim of her belly button, moving down, further down, more terrifying than anything that had happened to her daddy.

I’ll fucking kill you! her father shouted. Get your fucking hands off her!

The ropes burned deeper as they rode up into her armpits. The intruder’s fingers danced past her waist, igniting too many impulses for her to process. Inhuman, animal fires. HIS hands disappeared between her legs, and she cringed at the sensation. Her stomach lurched, and her dinner rushed up her throat. Partially digested swordfish and salmon Caesar salad filled her mouth as she pulled forward against the rope, spraying it across her naked body and into HIS face. HE snapped back, abandoning HIS exploration to wipe the traces of fish from HIS mask. The only thing more frightening than HIS fingers was wondering how HE would react.

As the warm pastiness dripped down her skin, HE pulled away, replaced his gloves and, brandishing the knife, rose again. Tears ran down the sides of her face, and she didn’t know if they were tears of relief or because of the lingering memory of HIS tongue, HIS warm breath, HIS fingers. She’d saved herself, that’s all she knew. HE moved away from her, stepping back to the prime focus of HIS work. She cried and struggled to cover herself, curling her legs up as best as she could.

The invader knelt again and, as HE had done to Cara, cut the shirt from her father’s body. The knife swayed back and forth in front of her daddy’s eyes. The blade touched his chest and dug into the skin, and the ropes dug in further on her as she squirmed. He screamed with pain again, shaking as the tip cut him. She couldn’t see from where she hung, but she imagined the intruder making little doodles, like a child with no artistic talent trying to fill a page. Blood dripped from the wounds, collecting in the remnants of his shirt. That she could see in vivid color.

Leave my daddy alone! Cara screamed.

As her voice rung in the distance, the man rose and disappeared again further into the house.

-

Ben watched the first traces of orange beckon through the bay windows that faced out to the pool. How many mornings had he watched the sunrise there as a boy? A million memories of this kitchen flooded his mind as light flooded the sky. Chelsea Blythe at his sister Laura’s birthday party. His father lounging with Jack Kennedy by the sink while his mother peeled the skin off a bucketful of potatoes. His mother teaching him how to dance when he was six. Jackie Gleason playing with that coffee pot before he spilled it all over the rug in the Green Room. Coming in that morning after Cara fell out of her crib, Sheila cold and distant. His baby girl laughing.

Cara, he breathed.

She looked up, half awake. Daddy?

It’s dawn. That means your mother’s on her way home. Right now.

She blinked back to alertness. She is?

Yes. The lingering pain crippled him as he struggled to breathe.

Are we going to be OK?

Sheila. I hope so. Cara would be, at any rate. He had no idea if he’d ever walk again.

The intruder emerged, and Ben thought he heard the man humming. He stood in the doorway, framed by the morning sun pouring in from the skylight in the hallway. He brought nothing new this time, but the gun he’d had when he first arrived was in his hand again. The gloved index finger caressed the trigger.

The intruder knelt over the mess that had been the bottom half of Ben’s body, and with steady swagger, he pressed the cold barrel of the pistol against Ben’s forehead, not hard, just enough to flood his senses with yet another singular reality.

Cara! Ben said, knowing she wouldn’t shut her eyes, no matter how much he begged her. Cara, I love you.

Daddy! she gasped, her naked body squirming with panic.

He ignored the weapon, smiling at the only person in the world who mattered in that moment, maybe the only one who’d ever really mattered. I promise, everything’s going to–

-

Cara jolted at the sound of the gunshot. She pressed her eyes shut, but it was too late. She already knew. Her father’s body spasmed and his head cracked against the steel refrigerator as the gun lit up and the bullet cut through his forehead in a spray of red and gray. His head lulled forward, limp, but HE pressed it back against the refrigerator, holding it in place with the gun. HE squeezed the trigger again, and again, and again, until she couldn’t see the tip of the weapon, buried in what was left of her daddy’s face.

As the blast of the last bullet faded, she heard nothing but the soft, squishy sound of her father’s blood emptying itself from the crater that had once been his left eye, rushing down and painting everything crimson. It sounded like the babbling of a brook.

Lightheaded, ears ringing, still feeling HIS hands on her, she tried to scream, but all she heard was a primal cry. What had once been Benjamin Weston Camden now hung limp from half-burned rope. Four bullets were lodged in the refrigerator behind him, slowly dripping blood down the polished steel.

She bellowed, making noises she’d never heard from a human. She wouldn’t stop, couldn’t stop.

The intruder stood over her. She fell silent, horror gripping her jaw, and just stared at HIM. And then HE lifted HIS arm, grasping the top of the mask, and slowly pulled it away until she could see HIS face.

Every other sight, every other sound and smell abandoned her, leaving her senseless and honed. There was nothing, nothing but clear, alien brown eyes. Nothing but rusty red hair, much duller than the mask. Nothing but the twitching nostrils of a slender nose. From where she sat, HE was the tallest person she’d ever seen. HE might as well have been a giant.

The Giant was her world.

And then HE spoke. It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

What? she shrieked.

The Giant looked over her naked body, covered in dried vomit, and she caught a brief glimpse of his tongue, as if he was remembering what she tasted like. It wasn’t supposed to be this way, HE said again. I’m your biggest fan.

-

The taxi’s tires crunched up the gravel driveway. The gate was ajar when Sheila arrived, and something was off about that. Up at the front, she told the driver, pointing. In the distance she saw the double doors hanging open as well. She paid for the ride, grabbed her suitcases, and hurried up the steps.

Hello?

Sheila came through the doors and dropped her bags to the ground. Something smelled funny, like a steak left on the grill until it was nothing but ash. Hello? she called again.

Mommy! Cara’s scream echoed down the hallway, as loud as if she’d been in the same room.

Sheila sprinted toward the source of the scream. And when she burst into the kitchen, the sight struck her harder than she’d ever been hit before. Her daughter, bound to the oven, naked, shivering, and covered in vomit. And her husband, melted across the floor and splattered all over the refrigerator. She barely recognized him.

Mommy!

She backed against the wall as the wind abandoned her lungs. The door to the patio and pool hung open on the other side of the room. She screamed as Cara hung against the oven. She looked from her daughter to what was left of her husband. There was no time to process. She didn’t know if he was alive, and she didn’t know which of them to go to first.

Mommy! Cara shrieked. He got out the back!

She couldn’t think beyond what she saw. Someone had done this; someone had gotten out the back. It went through her mind without a thought. Sheila dropped to her daughter’s side, pulling off her jacket and wrapping it around Cara’s bare chest and waist. Cara? was all she managed to say. Her head throbbed as all her blood rushed upward, and a spell of dizziness washed over her. She felt the lurch of nausea and fought it back.

Cara pressed against her, needing her, and Sheila held her there. She kissed the girl’s sweaty hair again and again and struggled to loosen the rope, a pair of handcuffs around her girl’s wrists, thumping against the oven. As she drew Cara close, shivering with horror, her eyes couldn’t escape what was left of Ben.

-

The mansion bustled with activity as police searched each floor carefully. A paramedic flashed a light in Cara’s eyes as Sheila held her steady, otherwise she would rock back and forth, arms wrapped around her knees. An oxygen mask was strapped to her face to flush out the smoke. She didn’t respond to the penlight; her eyes were vacant as she shivered, clutching at her shirt as if it might fall off.

Cara? Sheila said, but her girl wouldn’t look at her. Do you think you can answer a few questions for the policeman? She just rocked back and forth, breath steaming up the clear plastic of the oxygen mask, staring into the distance. Cara? Sheila moved into her field of vision, and those wide, unblinking green eyes glared through her as if she wasn’t there.

It’s all right, ma’am. We can come back later. The flashing reds and blues of three police cruisers and an ambulance reflected off the marble floors as the double doors hung open.

Cara moved forward and backward, and Sheila sank to the floor. I’m sorry, she said to the officer standing over them. She couldn’t bear the thought of being alone, not in this house, but she needed them to leave. She couldn’t sort through any of it until she could concentrate on her girl.

If you can get her to give you a statement, you can write it down for her. Would that be all right?

She nodded. Yes, thank you.

Sheila?

She lifted her swollen eyes at the sound of Hillary’s voice from the hallway, and her old friend dropped her purse at the door, joining mother and daughter there amidst the bustle of police activity.

Hill…

Are you all right?

Hillary and Sheila spoke in whispers, sinking under the weight of grief, unable yet to face what had happened to Ben, but Cara’s despondency disturbed them just as much. Cara didn’t appear to acknowledge Hillary’s presence.

Did she see any of it?

She said she was blindfolded. He must have taken it off her in the end. I don’t think she was… Sheila choked on the word. …raped. I don’t think she was. But something happened to her that… She didn’t know how to finish the sentence.

Sheila knew Cara was listening, tilting slightly at the crucial points of the conversation, but she never turned her head, never said a word.

By evening, the police had combed the place and restricted access to most of the house. Family and friends filled the few unsealed places and hung outside the gates, comforting Sheila and Cara and paying their respects to the Great One they had lost. The Yorks, the Danielses, the Elvins. The Greens were in the air, headed for LAX. The Loudens. All the Camdens and Westons from the area. And when Mary Tyler Moore stepped through the door, Sheila lost it.

I can’t believe he’s gone! she wept, face buried in Mary’s shoulder. My Ben is gone! And my baby girl…

I know. I know.

-

Mary sat beside the despondent Cara. How’re you doing, sweetheart? she asked.

I’m your biggest fan.

It was her fault; every moment of it. The pliers, the flashlight. The Lysol, the matches. The bullets. It was her fault. She couldn’t answer any of the questions, not then, not ever. And as quickly as it all happened she had invented the lie that would keep the world from knowing her daddy was dead because of her.

The last movie she and her father had watched together. Charlie Chaplin on roller skates. Look! I can do it blindfolded!

A blindfold. Always a blindfold. She’d seen none of it. Only heard it. She had nothing to tell them, no clues to offer. She’d been blindfolded. They had no reason not to believe her.

Cara turned to Mary with dry eyes and hugged her as tightly as she could.

-

Mourners from all around gathered beyond the gates, holding candles and singing songs, peering inside at the home of one of Hollywood’s brightest stars, now extinguished. Journalists jockeyed for position among the crowd. A reporter for the local NBC station stood before her camera.

Tonight’s top story: fans of Hollywood legend Benjamin Weston Camden have gathered to pay their respects to the Great One, who was found dead in his Beverly Hills home this morning. She turned the microphone away from the wind. Shot to death, the controversial celebrity bad boy-turned-father figure, known to his fans as Weston, was discovered by his wife, world-renowned artist Sheila Camden, moments after her return home from a lecture series at the University of Chicago. Reports are conflicting at this time, but it is believed that Weston and his daughter, Cara, were held hostage in the kitchen of their home on Camden Drive, which you see behind me. Young Cara and her father were both tortured, but she did not share Weston’s tragic fate.

-

Within, Cara sat with her best friend Kambree in what had once been the safety of her bedroom as her mother stood in the hallway with Mary, watching them. What do you think happens when people die? Kambree asked.

My daddy’s not dead.

Cara watched Kambree search her face for some understanding. If you say so, I believe you.

He’s not! Cara insisted.

I’m so scared for her, she heard her mother say, out in the hall. I’ve never been so scared!

At least she didn’t see any of it, Mary said.

Cara watched her mother wipe away a tear. All she said was, ‘It’s my fault.’ How could she think it’s her fault?

Mary locked eyes with the empty girl who saw and heard every word, all senses wide and alert. Everything’s changed now, Sheila. Ben’s gone, and we’ll never forget him. But Cara’s still here, and everything’s changed.

Cara leaned against Kambree’s shoulder, and the two girls held each other in silence.

Daddy’s coming back. I know he is. Daddy’s coming back.

Cara closed her eyes.

Part I

Nightmares

1990 CONTINUED

FEBRUARY

Happy birthday, Cara Camden.

Cara opened her eyes.

She was in the back of a church, one she’d never seen before. Her mother had said it was the biggest one in Beverly Hills. Grand, silver columns ran up along the high walls of the front lobby. Towering above them, a stained glass image of an angel gazed down on her, hovering among the clouds – not a cute little cherub with a diaper and wings, but a stern-faced warrior in a golden gown. In that moment she wanted to be the angel, strong and brave, not broken. Disconnected from the other mourners. She heard their voices but she didn’t see their faces. They were light breezes of sympathy and sorrow, telling sad stories and sneaking concerned glances in her direction. She wore a pretty green dress, her daddy’s favorite color. Her lungs breathed in and out, but she didn’t know why, or why her heart was still beating when his wasn’t. She woke up that morning and he didn’t. She woke up every day and he didn’t.

It was her fault.

She looked down from the angel to the whispering people, avoiding the entrance to the sanctuary. Mary Tyler Moore pulled off her pink gloves one finger at a time as she entered through the doors from outside, where her daddy’s mourners filled the grounds of the church, scattering into the parking lot, carrying flowers and posters from his movies. Cara crept toward her, and Mary dropped to one knee as Cara wrapped her arms around the woman’s neck. Her daddy once told Cara to call her Aunt Mary even though she wasn’t really her aunt, and Cara did so. Mary kissed her cheek and brought Cara into her lap. She smelled like the lilacs that used to grow in her grandmother’s garden. Cara squeezed her hard, wishing she could squeeze out the tears. She’d cried so much in the past few days, there shouldn’t be many left.

She remembered dancing with him that last night to his favorite song – her favorite song – Nat King Cole filling their hearts with Smile. Holding him close and safe, knowing nothing could hurt her when he was there. She pulled an arm back and held it against herself. She felt cold and naked, remembering for a moment the Giant’s hands on her stomach, her legs, her chest, inching downward.

Someone else came in through the main doors, and Cara got a quick glimpse of the mourners crowded outside. One of the posters was for Adventure Lane, with her own picture emblazoned across it. She shook with guilt. She’d rather be with them. They knew he wasn’t really gone.

Her mom, Sheila Camden, appeared beside her, clasping hands with Mary for a moment, then she touched Cara’s shoulder. Baby, it’s time, she whispered.

Cara climbed from Mary’s lap, looking up again at the angel watching them. She clutched her mother’s hand as they gathered into a line with everyone else that hadn’t already gone into the sanctuary. She walked down the aisle of this huge room with more pretty stained glass. Pictures of Jesus and more angels. They said her daddy was in heaven now. She wondered if he could see her in the dress she’d worn for him.

The pews were packed and mostly quiet, everyone watching her as they advanced to the front. Corey was there. Kambree too. Mr. Duvall. Ms. Simon. Mr. Carson. Mr. Carson locked eyes with her as they passed. Her mom and Mary were on either side of her, protecting her. Cara clung hard to her mom’s hand and gasped when she saw the coffin at the front of the room. Black. Shiny. Closed.

All of these people had come to see her daddy. They loved him too. Many of them worked for his company, Camden Enterprises. As she sneaked a glance at them, her distrust faded into the dawning realization that his death had affected them too, in ways she could never know. A short, stocky man with a few strands of hair neatly combed over his balding head let his shoulders sink as she locked eyes with him. She couldn’t remember his name, but she knew he was one of the company’s accountants. His face hung lower than his shoulders as she passed.

They moved her into the pew next to her cousin Peyton, and Peyton hugged her. Cara stared at the coffin. Behind them, Holly and Hayley sat with Luke and Kambree. Their parents too. Aunt Lara kissed her hair, and Cara hoped she hadn’t messed it up. She wanted to look pretty for him today.

Her granddfather stepped up to the pulpit, and she screamed inside for him to stay away. Not to say anything. Not a word. Her eyes stung with tears, twisting the light like prisms. She didn’t see what everyone else saw. She didn’t think she ever would again. The world had been a safe place. The world had been beautiful. Her daddy taught her dreams could come true.

She knew better now. Only nightmares came true.

We have come here today to pay our respects to Benjamin Weston Camden, her grandfather said. Reverend Saul Green, famous Tennessee preacher from decades past. Her daddy’d told her stories about him. He told her stories about everyone. Her daddy didn’t keep secrets from her. He shared his deepest one with her that night, that last night. Now she was the only one who knew.

Ben saw the world in colors no one else could see. Whether we wanted to or not, we could never quite see what he tried to show us. That was his miracle, his brilliance, and his legacy. Her grandfather was a good speaker, but she wished he would be quiet. She didn’t want to think about her daddy that way. Like he was gone. Like he was never coming back. Of course he was coming back. It was her fault. She could bring him back.

She heard a gasp. It wasn’t until she noticed people watching her that she realized she had been the one that made the sound. She lowered her head and fingered the locket around her neck, but she’d seen them, on the other side of the aisle. Some of her daddy’s director friends were among the heads that had turned toward her – Mr. Scorsese, Mr. De Palma, Mr. Spielberg.

I was one of two men in this world fortunate enough to have Ben Camden call me father, her grandfather continued. Lloyd left us long ago, and now Ben has gone to join him. The wisdom and support I was able to give him through the years cannot begin to compare to the wonder and joy he gave me in return, not only as a son-in-law, but as a man. A flawed, frustrated, hopeful man with so much love yet to give.

Cara trembled as she remembered the flash of the gun, the sound of the bullet, her daddy’s face turning inside out. She stared at the coffin and knew what was inside. The smell of the gunpowder. The cold floor beneath her. Struggling to hide herself from the Giant. Choking, screaming. Dancing with her daddy. Riding Romeo on the beach in the middle of the night, her daddy behind her, hoofmarks in the wet sand. Her first movie, Maggie Migglesly, his frustration because she kept paying attention to him when she was supposed to be acting. Getting Mary to direct her instead. He was so smart. She blinked and he was splattered across the refrigerator.

The Lord chose to reclaim Ben, having given him to us for far too short a time. We cannot know why this was his moment, just as we do not know why this horrible event has taken place. Unless the person responsible for this tragedy is found, we may never know why Benjamin Camden had to die. But we can take comfort in knowing that his life changed the world forever. He gave us laughter, outrage, tears, and joy. He gave us art and music and dancing and light. And he gave us the greatest gift he himself had been given: his beautiful daughter Cara, who, by the grace of God, is still with us today.

They were probably all looking at her now. They were all thinking it should have been her. Her daddy should still be alive and she should be in the coffin. If it weren’t for her, he’d still be alive. They all knew it. They were watching her. She couldn’t see them, but she could feel their eyes on her. There were so many of them.

Cara clenched her legs together when she realized she’d wet herself a little. The Giant was there. She knew it. He was coming back for her. He was going to wait until she was alone, and then he was going to tie her up and she’d never see her mom again, never see Kambree or Peyton or her daddy.

She couldn’t breathe. She tightened her legs together like a vise and told herself a new story, whispering it to herself until it was true.

There was no coffin. There was no killer. She wasn’t naked, and she hadn’t wet herself. That was silly. Her daddy was there. He was waiting for her in the back of the church, and they’d go out for ice cream when it was over.

-

Whenever Peyton Green flew out to see Cara, Uncle Ben, and Aunt Sheila, her family stayed at the Camden mansion. It was the biggest house she’d ever seen, for sure. She got lost once in its halls. But they weren’t staying there this time. Nobody was, and Peyton was glad. The few hours they’d spent at the mansion that day, Cara’s awful birthday, she’d never felt alone, even when no one else was there. A ghost was following her. Maybe the ghost of Uncle Ben.

Everyone that had come out for his funeral was staying at the Castle, a fifteen-story hotel on the outskirts of Beverly Hills that was owned by the Camden family. Peyton meandered across the balcony of the sixth floor, placing her black pumps on the red and gold of the carpet and looking through the glass rail down to the lobby beneath. The glass was pristine, not one smudge across the entire floor. Everything looked brand new. The place smelled fresh, like flowers just picked or juice just squeezed. The constant sound of rushing water from the fountains in the lobby echoed up the open chamber to the ceiling above the top story, and the distant sound of live music came from Cochrane’s, the restaurant on the second floor, or sometimes from the shiny white grand piano on the first.

She loved it; she could stay there forever.

But Peyton could hardly think about that. She kept remembering Uncle Ben swimming in the pool out behind his house, looking so handsome. When she was a little girl, she’d had a crush on him. Never told anybody, of course. Especially Cara. He would take them to the beach, and once when they were trying to build a sandcastle and it just wouldn’t work, he wrapped Cara and Peyton in his arms and they rolled around in the sand, trying to get as dirty as possible. They crashed right into that sandcastle, and nobody cared.

She came up out of the elevator. The lights were dim and she walked the wide hallway alone, looking out over the railing at the people so many floors below. She could yell in this place and nobody would hear her, it was so big.

Uncle Ben was difficult to understand. It was hard to hear all those stories about him and then see him in real life. Peyton couldn’t believe some of them. Most of them. She always thought he was just a little boy inside. Maybe that’s why she’d had a crush on him.

She rounded the corner to the part of the floor Aunt Sheila had reserved for funeral guests. She wondered if Cara would move back to her house when this was over. She passed a few people she recognized but didn’t know, sitting in high-backed purple chairs that looked comfy. They followed her with sad eyes for a moment until they realized she wasn’t Cara. Everyone said the two of them could have been twins. On a table in front of those guests was the latest issue of Newsweek. Uncle Ben was on the cover. Next to it was a Time. Cara was on the cover of that one, staring out past whatever camera had photographed her, a single tear hanging, about to fall. It was a beautiful picture – if only it weren’t real. She’d seen it on television. In newspapers. Cara was everywhere. She and Uncle Ben both.

Peyton approached Room 627 with slow steps. She knocked, lowering her head, but she raised it again so that Cara could see her through the peephole. There was no response. She glanced down at the red and gold carpet and knocked again, but Cara didn’t answer.

She moseyed out to the lounge area. Aunt Sheila sat with Peyton’s granddad on the light pink couches beneath the sagging branches of small palm trees, talking quietly. Her mom and dad were with them. We have to make sure they focus on Ben, Aunt Sheila was saying. Whenever they ask about Cara, we have to spin it to him. I…I can’t see her on another magazine cover.

Mom? Peyton asked, and Samantha Green ran a Kleenex across her eyes as she turned.

What is it?

She looked from one sullen face to the next. Where’s Cara?

She’s in her room, Samantha said.

Peyton glanced back over at that closed door. I knocked.

Aunt Sheila handed her a keycard. Don’t lose it.

She held it against her palm. I won’t.

Peyton unlocked the door and stepped into the room. All the lights were on – even in the bathroom. Cara? she called. Nothing. There were more palm trees in the room – one on either side of the wall-length window with the curtains drawn that looked out onto the balcony and the city below. The bed was covered in deep reds with a gold metal headboard, matching the patterns on the carpet. There were blue flowers in a vase beside the television – she didn’t know what kind, but they were pretty, with little round petals layered together. The room was really nice – and empty. Cara? She checked in the bathroom, out on the balcony. Nothing. Maybe it was because of what she’d seen and heard the past few days, but she was uncomfortable being in there by herself.

As she shut off the lights, she heard something. She wasn’t sure what it was, but there was definitely a noise coming from somewhere in the room. At first it sounded like the squeaking of a mouse, then the soft haunting whimper of a frightened puppy. Lights on again. Hello? Nothing. She had the eerie sense that she was not alone. Cara? Her heart pounded. She heard it again. Peyton approached the closet, staring at the white knob on the mirrored sliding door. Hello? she called.

There were whispers from within, indecipherable. She pushed back the door.

Cara pushed herself up against the wall in the back of the closet, breathing in and out, gasping for air. A garment bag cast a shadow over half of her face. She stared fiercely at Peyton, her green eyes shaded with a hint of red. Cara whispered to herself, like she was praying.

What’re you doing?

Don’t tell him I’m here, she whispered.

What?

Cara covered her eyes and screamed. Peyton’s ears rang and she staggered back. Cara screamed again, and Aunt Sheila and Peyton’s dad came spilling into the room. She backed away, giving them clearance, and Aunt Sheila was on her knees, pulling Cara close. She was quivering, shaking. Aunt Sheila embraced her, and Cara’s arms fell to her sides.

He’s coming to kill me. Cara moaned like a dying animal. Peyton didn’t recognize her voice.

Aunt Sheila scooped her up and took her to the bed, followed by Peyton’s dad. Peyton wanted to run out of there, but she followed. Nobody’s coming. You’re safe now.

Where’s Daddy?

Aunt Sheila kissed Cara’s forehead. Daddy’s not coming, Angel.

Peyton’s mom and granddad sat with Cara as Aunt Sheila and Peyton’s dad took her back to her room in silence, and she was glad she wasn’t alone. Hey, her brother, Forest, said as they entered.

Hey back. He perked up and looked her over. Forest was fourteen, four years older than she was, young enough that she could relate to him but old enough to make her feel safer when he was around.

Have a seat, kids, their dad said as he shut the door behind them, and Aunt Sheila drew a chair to the bed. Peyton dropped onto the comforter, wrapping her arms around her legs until she realized that it mirrored how she’d found Cara in the closet. Her legs dangled as Forest sat beside her. Their dad stood behind the chair, watching them, as Aunt Sheila offered a broken smile.

I know this is hard for you, Sheila said. She was losing her voice. It’s hard for all of us. And I know it can be scary to think about what happened. Ben loved you both, and I know you miss him. Forest hung his head a little, but Peyton couldn’t look away. Aunt Sheila was haunted, but not as haunted as Cara. A lot of people want to know what’s going on. They want to talk about Ben, in the news and on television, and that’s good. It’s good for people to care about him and remember him. Right?

Right, Forest said, still not looking at her. Peyton glanced at their dad. His clear blue eyes were rimmed with red, and she could hear him when he breathed.

And there are a lot of people that want to know about Cara. They want to know if she’s OK. And that’s good too. It’s good for them to care about her. It’s good for them, and us, only it’s not so good for her. She nodded at Peyton, just a bit. Cara’s confused right now. She’s not herself. She doesn’t quite understand what happened, even though she was there. And I know that confuses us too, and it makes us sad for her. And it’s good that she has us to take care of her. She needs that. But she doesn’t need for everyone else to know. This is a very private thing. Do you understand?

Yes, Forest said, and Peyton nodded.

"Maybe she’ll be better tomorrow. Maybe it will take her a while. I don’t know how long it will be until she

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