In “206 Bones,” New York Times best-selling author Kathy Reichs’ latest crime novel featuring Tempe Brennan, the forensic anthropologist finds herself a victim of abduction. The following is an excerpt.
I opened my eyes.
To dark. Black as arctic winter.
Am I dead?
Obeying some limbic command, I inhaled deeply.
Smells registered in my brain.
Mold. Musty earth. Something organic, hinting at the passage of time.
Was this hell? A tomb?
But no. There were sounds. Air moving through my nostrils. Blood pounding in my ears.
Corpses don’t breathe. Dead hearts don’t beat.
Other sensations intruded. Hardness below me. Burning on the right side of my face.
I raised my head.
Bitter bile flooded my mouth.
I shifted my hips to relieve pressure on my twisted neck.
Pain exploded up my left leg.
A groan shattered the stillness.
Instinctively, my body went fetal. The pounding gained volume.
I lay curled, listening to the rhythm of my fear.
Then, recognition. The sound had come from my own throat.
I feel pain. I react. I am alive.
Spitting bile, I tried reaching out. Felt resistance. Realized my wrists were bound.
I flexed a knee toward my chest, testing. My feet rose as one. My wrists dropped.
I tried a second time, harder. Neurons again fired up my leg.
Stifling another cry, I struggled to force order onto my addled thinking.
I’d been bound, hands to feet, and abandoned. Where? When? By whom?
A memory search for recent events came up empty. No. The void in recollection was longer than that.
I remembered picnicking with my daughter, Katy. But that was summer.
The frigid temperature now suggested that it must be winter.
Sadness. A last farewell to Andrew Ryan. That was October. Had I seen him again?
A bright red sweater at Christmas. This Christmas? I had no idea.
Disoriented, I groped for any detail from the past few days. Nothing stayed in focus.
Vague impressions lacking rational form or sequence appeared and faded.
A figure emerging from shadow. Man or woman? Anger. Shouting. About what? At whom?
Melting snow. Light winking off glass. The dark maw of a cracked door.
Dilated vessels pounded inside my skull. Hard as I tried, I could not evoke recollection from my semiconscious mind.
Had I been drugged? Suffered a blow to the head?
How bad was my leg? If I managed to free myself, could I walk? Crawl?
My hands were numb, my fingers useless. I tried tugging my wrists outward.
Felt no give in my bindings.
Tears of frustration burned the backs of my lids.
Clamping my jaw, I rolled to my back, raised my feet, and jerked my ankles apart. Flames roared up my left lower limb.
Then I knew nothing.
I awoke. Moments later? Hours? No way to tell. My mouth felt drier, my lips more parched. The pain in my leg had receded to a dull ache.
Though I gave my pupils time, they took in nothing. How could they adjust? The dense blackness offered not a sliver of light.
The same questions flooded back. Where? Why? Who?
Clearly, I’d been abducted. To be the victim in some sick game? To be removed as a threat?
The thought triggered my first clear memory. An autopsy photo. A corpse, charred and twisted, jaws agape in a final agonal scream.
Then a kaleidoscope sequence, image chasing image. Two morgues. Two autopsy rooms. Name plaques marking two labs. Temperance Brennan, Forensic Anthropologist. Temperance Brennan, Anthropologue Judiciaire.
Was I in Charlotte? Montreal? Far too cold for North Carolina. Even in winter. Was it winter? Was I in Quebec?
Had I been grabbed at home? On the street? In my car? Outside the Édifice Wilfrid-Derome? Inside the lab?
Was my captor a random predator and I a random victim? Had I been targeted because of who I am? Revenge sought by a former accused? By a conspiracy-theorist next of kin? What case had I last been working?
Dear God, could it really be so cold? So dark? So still?
Why that smell, so disturbingly familiar?
As before, I tried wriggling my hands. My feet. To no avail. I was hog-tied, unable even to sit.
“Help! I’m here! Someone! Help me!”
Over and over I called out until my throat grew raw.
My pleas went unanswered.
Panic threatened to overwhelm me.
You will not die helpless!
Trembling from cold and fear, and frantic to see, I shifted to my back and started bucking my hips, stretching my hands upward as far as possible, oblivious to the agony in my leg. One thrust. Two. Three. My fingertips scraped hardness little more than a foot above my face.
I lunged again. Made contact. Sediment cascaded into my eyes and mouth.
Spitting and blinking, I rolled onto my right side and shoved backward with one arm and both feet. The rough ground abraded the skin on my elbow and heels. One ankle screamed in protest. I didn’t care. I had to move. Had to get out.
I’d advanced a very short distance when I encountered a wall. Rectangular contours surrounded by mortar. Brick.
Heart hammering, I rolled to my other side and inched in the opposite direction. Again, I soon hit a wall.
Adrenaline flooded my body as terror piggybacked onto terror. My gut curdled.
My lungs drew great heaving breaths.
My prison was no more than thirty inches high and six feet wide! Its length
didn’t matter. Already I felt the walls pressing in.
I lost control.
Scooching forward, I began yelling and beating the brick with my fists.
Tears streamed down my cheeks. Over and over I called out, hoping to attract the attention of a passerby. A worker. A dog. Anyone.
When my knuckles grew raw I attacked with the heels of my hands.
When I could no longer flail with my arms, I rolled and lashed out with my feet.
Pain ripped from my ankle. Too much pain. My calls for help morphed into agonized moans.
Defeated, I fell back, panting, sweat cooling on my icy flesh.
A parade of faces marched through my mind. Katy. Ryan. My sister, Harry. My cat, Birdie. My ex-husband, Pete.
Would I never see them again?
Great heaving sobs racked my chest.
Perhaps I lost consciousness. Perhaps not. My next awareness was of sound.
A noise outside my body. Not of my making.
Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick.
A cerebral crack opened.
Memory slipped through.
Republished from “206 Bones” by Kathy Reichs with permission. Copyright © 2009 Scribner. All rights reserved.