On the east edge of Flagstaff, Arizona, the Brentwood Motel stood dark and silent. The L-shaped building blended into the high desert rock and sand hillside like a chiseled symmetric outcropping. In the chilly predawn the sixteen-foot-tall neon cactus road sign loomed blank and dead, its flashing yellow and green replaced by waning milky-blue moonlight. As the stars faded from the Arizona sky the young woman in unit number fourteen fought to break the grip of a nightmare. A nightmare she'd had off and on for the last fifteen years.
Julie Taylor lunged upright in bed, a scream locked between her clenched jaws, her fingers covering the pale scar under her cheekbone. Julie's chest and back were sweat-drenched, the skin hot and sticky. Her blue cotton gown was plastered tighter than if she'd walked through a shower. Julie blinked at her strange surroundings; it wasn't her room at Mrs. Hager's house in San Bernardino. It took Julie a minute to remember that she was on the way to Oak Grove, a small town in Arkansas, where she would teach school next fall. The nightmare always left Julie confused and, if she dared admit it, terrified.