Heart of Gold - B.J. Daniels


“JINGLE BELLS” PLAYED loudly from a nearby store and a man jangled a bell looking for donations to his bucket as Charlie let her apartment door close behind her. Snow crystals drifted on the slight breeze making downtown Bozeman, Montana, sparkle. Pine scented the air as shoppers rushed past, loaded down with bags and packages after snagging early morning deals.

Charlie had just stepped onto the sidewalk when she saw a woman standing across the street under one of the city’s Christmas decorations. Shock froze her to the pavement, and she stared in disbelief. The woman, looking right at her, smiled that all too familiar smile—the one that had haunted Charlie’s nightmares for years. Even as she told herself it wasn’t possible, she felt the bright winter day begin to dim and go black.

Charlie woke lying on the icy sidewalk surrounded by people. She’d never fainted before in her life. But then she’d never seen a dead woman standing across the street from her apartment either.

As she lay there dazed, she realized that she probably wouldn’t have even noticed the woman if it hadn’t been for her horoscope that morning. It had warned that something bad was going to happen. Not in those exact words. But when she read it, she’d had a premonition she couldn’t shake.

Not that she would admit checking her horoscope each morning. It wasn’t that she believed it exactly. She just hated the thought of walking into a new day not knowing what to expect.

Earlier this morning she’d actually considered calling her boss and begging off work. She knew it was silly. But she hadn’t been able to throw off the strange sense of dread she’d had after reading the prediction.

Unfortunately, she had a design project that was coming due before Christmas. She couldn’t afford to miss work. So she’d dressed and left her apartment—against her instincts. If she hadn’t been anxiously looking around, worried, she might not have seen the long-dead Lindy Parker standing across the street looking at her. And she wouldn’t have dropped in a dead faint.

Becoming aware of the cold, icy sidewalk beneath her, she struggled up with some help from the onlookers. For a while, all sound had been muted. Now she heard the clanging bell again, and the Christmas music from a nearby store. She could also feel a pain in her knees; she must have scraped them when she fell.

“Let me help you,” an older man said, taking her arm so she could stand on her wobbly legs.

Her gaze shot to the spot where she’d seen Lindy. There was no one there. If there ever had been.

Charlie felt her face flush with embarrassment. Her foolish feeling was accompanied by nausea. She knew rationally that she couldn’t have seen Lindy. Yet she couldn’t stop quaking. She’d seen someone. Someone who looked enough like the dead woman to give her more than a start.

It didn’t help that her rational mind argued against the chance that Lindy’s doppelgänger just happened to be standing across the street from her apartment smiling that evil smile of hers.

“Are you sure you’re all right?” the elderly man asked. “You’re awfully pale.”

She couldn’t speak around the giant lump that had formed in her throat. Hadn’t she been expecting something bad to happen even before she read this morning’s horoscope? Her life had been going so well lately that she’d had to pinch herself to believe it.

Of course, being the negative Nancy she was, she’d been waiting for the other shoe to drop. Happy was a feeling she wasn’t familiar with. Good things just didn’t happen to her. So why would she trust it? Her friends told her she was silly for thinking the worst. “Just enjoy life,” they’d said. “You deserve this.”

Did she though? They didn’t know about her darkest secret. They didn’t know about Lindy.

Once on her feet, the crowd around her dispersed, including the elderly man. Seeing the time, Charlie pulled out her cell phone and dialed the emergency-only number she’d kept while hoping she would never have to use it.

When voice mail picked up, she said, “I just saw a dead woman standing across the street from my apartment. I’m not drunk or crazy, but I’m scared because...it was her. It was Lindy Parker.” Her voice broke, her eyes filling with hot tears.

Fingers trembling, she disconnected, took a couple of breaths and tried to regain control of herself. This wasn’t like her. She was no longer a victim. She was strong, determined, capable. But even