"Lost Causes" Prologue April, 1992 Pomona, NE He laid on his side in the darkness, his own heavy breathing filling up the silence. The black all around him was complete, stifling, and he was afraid. It wasn't a normal fear, like the fear of heights or spiders or pain. Or dying. It came from a source he couldn't identify. And it kept coming. When he could push it back no longer, he began to struggle, but he couldn't move. His lips parted, but no sound emerged - his throat was dry, his voice frozen. This wasn't fear: it was panic. He was all too familiar with the sensation, especially as of late, and it was killing him. His wrenching movements intensified and then, suddenly, he heard a sound and felt a gentle touch on his arm. Although he stopped moving, his muscles tensing automatically, he couldn't control his gasping breaths that echoed in the small room. "It's okay," a soothing voice reassured him, "I'm not going to hurt you, okay?" He swallowed and twisted against the unseen restraints with a desperation that came with the sharp fear. The voice, a soft baritone, continued as the blindfold was removed from his eyes. He still could see only black. "Now I want you to relax and listen to my voice, understand? I've been sent here to help you - it's the reason I'm here and that's what I intend to do, okay?" The reassurances ceased suddenly and he swallowed again, loudly, angry at the trembling in his limbs. The stranger lifted him to a sitting position and rubbed his arms to try and restore some circulation. "Concentrate on me, not on all those horrors I know you're thinking of." Was it his imagination, or did the voice waver slightly? Either way, the touch of someone he could consider a friend began to calm him and the oncoming panic attack was driven slowly away. "That's it," the man encouraged, "just relax." "How long?" he asked hoarsely. "Two days." The hands loosened the ropes that held his own, but did not remove them. "That's all?" It had seemed much, much longer. "Since they last took you out of here, yes, but you've been missing for a week." Anxiety flooded his senses and he again struggled against the ropes, feeling them cut deeper into his flesh, but unable to stop. The stranger touched him again, softly, and he subsided with an effort. "Who are you?" he asked, needing to hear his companion again. "I'm..." He paused, as if uncertain of his own identity. "My name is Derrick. I'm a friend. I can't untie you just yet, but I'll be back. I'll get you out of this mess, okay? You've got to believe me - you've got to hang onto that." He nodded in the darkness. "I have to go, but I'll be back soon, I promise." "Wait!" A hand touched his face and wiped away the single tear, as if he knew it would be there. "I promise, Al." Then he was gone.