Ghost of a Girl



She’s discovered lying under a heap of garbage behind a fast food restaurant in Phoenix, naked and bruised, serious head trauma, her body covered in dozens of Yellow Jacket stings. When she wakes from a lengthy coma, she has no memory of her past. Doctors call her condition dissociative amnesia. They hold out little hope for recover of her memories. The FBI fails to identify her from fingerprint, DNA or facial recognition software; the local police have no leads or clues. And no one comes forward to identify her: no family, friends or business associates. She’s a non-entity. A ghost.

But if she’s a nobody, then why are so many people trying to kill her – to finish the job someone started and bungled, years before.

When her young son is stricken with a rare genetic disease, Jane Doe decides she needs to take matters into her own hands and sets out to find the missing person who used to be her. Her journey takes her deep into the dark heart of one of the world’s largest criminal organizations and ends with a shocking revelation that will keep you on the edge of your seat.



Sunlight washes across my face as I lift one recalcitrant eyelid. My young son stares back at me, his hair wild with sleep, looking curious, his head tilted to the side. I start to smile until it hits me again like it does every morning: poor child, his mother a phantom, a kind of modern ghost.

My heart goes out to him again. Kyle! What will become of our family?

I pull him up into my arms and bury a sob as a familiar line echoes in my head. Actually, just a detached fragment of a lyric, no more than a few words, no tune I’m able to recall. It goes something like this:

I don’t know.

That’s it. That’s my story in three words.

Every single day, just as I’m waking up, hopeful and eager for about three seconds, that thought bubbles up into my consciousness.

I don’t know.

That simple phrase haunts me because there’s a huge freaking crater in the middle of my life. Thirty years wide. Everything I’ve experienced thus far, gone, washed down the drain.

I have absolutely no clue of a life prior to my thirtieth birthday.

You’d think there might be some clues floating around as to who I am. I’d love to know where my handbag went, for example. Or my drivers license. The iPhone every woman obsesses over. Family or friends who would see my battered face on the news and help to stitch the pieces back together.

But there’s nothing.

And I’m no help at all: no dreams, no flashbacks, not even a fuzzy sense of familiarity with the local buildings and streets. Maybe I’m not from Phoenix. Maybe I’m an alien. Some days I feel like I’ll never know; I’ll spend my entire life as a big fat foggy question mark.

Here’s what I do know — I was found behind a dumpster at a McDonald’s in Mesa in the summer of 2013. Blunt force trauma to the head, naked and sun burnt, dozens of wasp stings all over my body. They tell me I laid there for hours, half buried under fast food garbage. No one knows how I got there.

A French fry cook found my body on Monday morning and called 911.

A paramedic guessed I was celebrating a 30th birthday a little too hard. That’s where my age comes from. Apparently a lot of women overdo things on their 30th birthday. A lot of them end up in jail or wandering the streets. But wouldn’t I have friends then? Someone who would hold my hair? Keep an eye out for creeps looking to prey on a hopeless drunk? Because I was clearly drunk. One thing they know with certainty, I had a blood alcohol level of .12. That’s after several hours of lying in my own vomit.

It must have been quite a party.

I don’t know.

I’ve spent two years in and out of shelters and hospitals while good people try to help me. I was finally diagnosed with dissociative amnesia. I met a doctor at the St. Joseph’s shelter who offered me a job in return for room and board. He had to do that because he couldn’t legally pay me. I don’t have a SIN number and can’t prove my citizenship to the satisfaction of the US government.

That’s my reward for surviving my ordeal: they made me a ghost.

Doctor Bryce Keene, an ER doctor volunteering at the shelter, was very patient and kind. He spent hundreds of hours with me, nursing me back to health. He became my only remaining family and best friend. We were married four years ago, me already pregnant with his child.

I carry my new ID with me everywhere I go now, bearing the name Mary Keene, even though I know it’s not technically legal, out of fear that something could happen again, that I could vanish along with everyone I know. I couldn’t bear to lose Bryce. Or Kyle, my four-year-old son.

They gave me a name at the hospital after a thorough DNA and fingerprint trace that turned up no clues. Mary McDonald. As indistinct as murky river water. But better than Jane Doe. Or Wasp Girl. Yeah, one of the tabloids tried that for a while.

Being a non-entity has its challenges. I have no official identity; no education I can prove, at least none that I can verify, although I appear to have a knack with numbers. I can do long division in my head. Try finding a job with that on your resume.

I met with a lawyer while lying in a hospital bed recovering. He was an immigration expert but my case puzzled him. How do you give a woman back her citizenship when there is no proof I’m even an American. Sure, I speak English. But what does that prove? I could be Canadian. Or an ex-pat on vacation from anywhere.

The FBI ran a search on my face to see if they could link me to any pre-existing records or security footage. They came up with a few close matches but nothing that helped confirm an identity.

So I wait for the big reveal. Which may or may not ever come.

I release Kyle and let him wiggle away across the bed. He has blond hair and the first signs of freckles splattered across his nose. His father has dark hair. I lean towards reddish tinged brunette. These kinds of things are just trivia for most people: to me, everything is a hard won clue to my identity. I look for young children in the mall who look like Kyle, wondering if there could be a family resemblance. That’s assuming I’m even from this place.

I scoop Kyle up again and lay him besides me on the bed, but he’s too fidgety to stay. He’s got a project in mind involving a sand box and a new plastic dump truck. He asks me to go with him outside.

I try not to be a helicopter Mom, but it’s not easy. If you believe I could just disappear off the face of the earth, why couldn’t my son? And how did I even learn how to be a parent? I can’t remember anything about my own mother and I certainly have no clue to how she brought me up. I sometimes wonder if I’m an orphan or a foster kid and probably a terrible parent. Although Kyle seems like a pretty good kid. He has a bad day once in a while, but overall he seems pretty normal. I haven’t caught him pulling the wings off of flies or anything. Which is a weird thought — and I do have those occasionally. But so does Stephen King. And pretty much everyone else I know.

Please don’t ask me why.

I don’t know.

Dr. Bryce Keene, my significant other, is a Godsend. I can’t compare him to ex-boyfriends or sketchy co-workers, because that whole arena is a total blank slate for me. I don’t recall any previous love affairs; any feelings about men in the past. Bryce treats me well all the time and tells me he loves me almost every day. His biggest fault is he works too much. Ten and twelve hour days are the norm. But what did you expect from a doctor at a busy ER? I can only compare him to TV and movie husbands. I like to think he comes pretty close to Doctor McDreamy. How did I ever get so lucky?

I don’t know.

And I really don’t. As clueless as I might be, I recognize that Karma is a big joke. You can prove it wrong a hundred times a day. When a bus load of orphans goes over a cliff, you know they couldn’t have done anything even close enough to the kind of evil that would deserve that kind of quick punishment.

I was just lucky with Kyle and Bryce. And very thankful. I could have been a real Jane Doe, just a body by a dumpster, never ID’d and buried in an unmarked grave. That’s a thought that never fails to give me chills. Fate took a turn and I get to live in this beautiful house with Doctor McDreamy and our perfect child.

OK, maybe not perfect. It depends on the day of the week.

There’s a knock at the front door. It’s Hilly from down the street. She has a home business that’s very successfully selling sex toys and lingerie over the Internet. When I open the back door she looks at me with the eyes of an appraiser.

“Either you had a bad sleep last night or good sex. I can’t tell, but you look a little tossed and turned.”

I laugh. “What else can you tell? Quick before I brush my hair and destroy the evidence.”

“I predict you will go into business with your best friend.”

“And then get arrested and spend ten years in jail. I can’t make money. You know that.”

“You can make a little bit of money. And you can become a dildo wrapping expert.”

I look at Kyle at the other end of the room, into his own world, piling plastic blocks into a fortress which will soon be attacked by a large rubber diplodocus. And no, I don’t know that from a former life. Dinosaur expertise is very much a requirement when raising a four-year-old. I shush Hilly. Kyle was picking up new words everyday. I didn’t want dildo to be one of them.

I pop a K-cup into the Keurig for her. Vanilla Chi. Her favorite.

“You’re on the front page of the Sun again,” she whispers behind me. I sigh. The media seems to never lose interest in my story.

“Clearly, my real family doesn’t read tabloids.”

“How do you know?” she asks. I stare at her until enlightenment dawns. “Ohhh, of course.” If they did, I wouldn’t be Mary McDonald. Someone would have claimed me. I’ve been on TV, the radio, blog sites. I could make a good living just charging for appearances. But no one has come forward.

“You could write a book,” says Hilly.

“People aren’t going to be too excited about a novel full of blank pages.”

“How did you meet Bryce?”

I hand her the filled coffee cup. “This halfway house found me a room when the hospital said there were no more beds available. Bryce volunteered there on Wednesdays.”

“Does he still do that?”

“He doesn’t talk about it much. But yeah. For years.”

Then the doorbell rings. I jump and Hilly snickers. She knows I’m edgy that way; surprised by all things domestic and ordinary. I cover the distance to the front door like a rabbit sneaking through coyote territory. When I peek through the peephole I see a man dressed in brown from head to foot holding a package. His delivery van is parked in the driveway. UPS. I open the door slowly, expecting the courier driver to force his way in at any minute. Of course he doesn’t. I’m the one who’s insane.

“I have a package here for … uh … Mary McDonald.”

I stare at him blankly. Mary McDonald? I would never order anything online using that name and neither would Bryce. I stare at the bulky signature tablet. The address is right. And there was that name that I hate.

I lift my right hand to sign, nervous but curious. Maybe the package contains a clue. Some reluctant relative making a first cautious step. I notice my hand is shaking.

I walk the package into the kitchen and place it carefully on the island counter.

“What did you order?” asks Hilly.

“Nothing,” I say, my voice catching. That gets her attention instantly and she leans in as I pull open the top. Inside, packing peanuts conceal the contents. I dig my hand in carefully. My fingernails click on glass. I pull out a wide-mouthed glass container with a sealed top, a mason jar like the kind used for canning preserves. Only this jar doesn’t contain jam. I can feel the object vibrating in my hand, a cold trace running down my back.

Inside are dozens of wasps, buzzing frantically. Brightly striped yellow jackets.

Then the jar slips out of my fingers and I watch in horror as it spins lazily towards the dark granite floor.