Chapter One

Three months ago I found myself driving through the wilds of central Washington State with my estranged sister, Aimee. I knew both of us were nervous. In fact, I felt something like a sense of doom. We hadn't spoken to each other in over a year, since her last mental breakdown. Aimee looked normal enough, dressed in sneakers, jeans and a soft gray sweater, but I knew that looks could be deceptive. For a while we made conversation for the sake of it, but I felt like there was a barrier between us that words couldn't penetrate. I was looking forward to arriving at our destination so I could escape from the car.

We were headed to the wedding of an old college friend of mine named Stephen Gault, who I hadn't seen since graduation, four years ago. The wedding was going to be held at his estate, which was also where all the guests were staying. We still had hours of driving left to go, and wouldn't get to the house until midnight if we were lucky, much later than I'd planned. I hoped it would be okay with Stephen.

I was a little worried that Aimee was still too unstable to bring with me. She was twenty-eight, two years older than me, but she often felt like my younger sister. My parents had adopted her because, until I was born, they thought they couldn't have children. Aimee had had a difficult time growing up and was the black sheep of our family. She'd got into drugs and alcohol when she was young, and ran away from home at seventeen, supposedly to find her birth parents. Instead, she'd ended up traveling down to Texas and joining a religious commune outside Austin. It had taken my parents thirty thousand dollars worth of therapy to get her straightened out again.

After that, she was never really stable, and had gone in and out of mental institutions because she sometimes heard voices in her head. Because of how she'd messed up my life and tortured my parents, Aimee and I weren't close at all. She made me nervous because I didn't know what to expect from her. Last year, she'd tried to join another religious cult in Spokane, and my parents had been forced to bail her out again. They'd even hired a cult deprogrammer, like in the movies. Apparently it had worked, but I doubted it was a permanent cureā€¦

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