Wednesday, November 1, 2017
Wednesday, October 18, 2017
Sneak Peek ~ Tainted World ~ Rememdium Series Book 4
Exclusive sneak peek at the first chapter of Tainted World. Release date is December 15, 2017, exclusively through Amazon by clicking here. The fabulous Rebecca Roberts is lending her voice talent again to the series.
The final installment of what happens when a miraculous cure ends up destroying the entire world.
When Dr. Everett Berning’s discovery of a permanent cure for drug addiction fell into the hands of Benito San Nicholas, head of the Alvarado cartel in El Salvador – the end result was the dead took over the world.
In less than 48 hours, narcotics tainted with fungal spores are deployed around the globe and mankind’s existence hangs in the balance. Nowhere is safe as the death toll mounts and the reanimated corpses aren’t the only threat.
The remaining members of Project Rememdium and the small contingent of survivors from Arkansas band together. The decision is made to flee to a safer location, yet Teresa Alvarado had other intentions. Once in the air, hell-bent on finding Benito San Nicholas and killing him for what he’s done, Teresa Alvarado forced the pilot to take them to her native El Salvador.
Will Teresa’s own personal vendetta actually offer hope to Dr. Berning and the rest of the world?
Or will the dangerous jungles of El Salvador be the place where all hope is lost and they take their final breaths?
Saturday, December 27th – 5:15 a.m. – Arkansas
MIKE BAILEY STRUGGLED TO OPEN HIS EYES. The lids were heavy and seemed as though sealed shut with glue. Every part of his body ached like he’d been beaten head to toe with a baseball bat. He tried, but couldn’t recall, any difficulties during his last shift. Did he arrest Kirk Sorrell’s drunken ass again, struggling to get him cuffed and booked? No, there wasn’t a memory of dealing with the old moonshiner. Did he drink too much when he arrived home? No, he didn’t remember having any beers. Why the hell was he so sore?
A weird noise caught his attention. The steady drip drip drip of water didn’t make sense. He’d just had Russell’s Plumbing out maybe two weeks ago to fix the hot water heater at the house. Russell charged him way too much for the work performed, so if it was leaking again, Mike would insist he return and finish the job correctly.
Licking his dry lips, Mike winced. The coppery taste of blood filled his mouth which confused him. Had he bitten his tongue while sleeping? Did he have a wicked nightmare, like he used to when a child, and struggled with imaginary monsters while under the covers? Why did things seem so foggy inside his mind?
Drip. Drip. Drip.
A heavy moan startled him. It was too low and deep to be from his on-again, off-again girlfriend, Collette. Besides, she had gone with several friends on a cruise for the holidays. Had she returned early and snuck into Mike’s bed to surprise him for Christmas? Maybe that’s why he was so sore. He’d spent the night having wild sex while half asleep and yet didn’t seem to remember any of it.
What was the awful smell? If Collette bought some cheap, duty-free perfume, she picked out a horrible scent.
Forcing his brain to rise up from the fogginess, Mike whispered, “Collette?”
Drip. Drip. Drip.
Managing to force his eyes open, it took several seconds to focus and adjust to the surrounding darkness. Strange shapes appeared, and Mike Bailey suddenly had full clarity.
He wasn’t at home in his bed.
Collette wasn’t beside him.
The moan came from his lips.
He was in the Humvee, hanging upside down, tethered by the seatbelt cutting into his lap. Early streaks of the sun touched the edges of the morning, and Mike’s stomach lurched when it dawned on him the drips weren’t from water.
They were from his head, and the smell wafted from a dead body inches from his face.
The rush of memories made him dizzy and nauseated. Opening his mouth, he puked so hard stars appeared. His vomit covered the ruined face of the corpse below him in a wet splash of stomach juices.
Panic tore through his chest while he struggled to unlatch the seatbelt. He tried to hang on to the suicide handle so he wouldn’t fall on top of the dead woman, but the weight of his body was too much. The second he landed on top of her, his jacket was coated with tacky blood and hot vomit. He scrambled out of the busted window.
“Shit! Oh, shit! I touched her blood! Not good, Mike. Not good!”
Shedding his coat, he tossed it onto the pavement. He didn’t care about the cold air swirling around or the fact he didn’t have another. He tried to remember what the doctor back up in the cave said about transmission of the infection but came up blank. His head throbbed, and he felt dizzy.
Blood dripped into his eyes, making it difficult to see. Wiping his hands on his pants in case residual liquid remained he reached up and touched his forehead. A gash several inches long started in the hairline, spreading all the way down to his eyebrow. Mike sighed long and hard, grateful the wound was from a good smack against the steering wheel and not from a bite. He needed to find something to use as cover before the scent alerted the dead.
Bending down, he looked through the broken glass into the interior of the Humvee. He didn’t want to climb back inside to search for a towel or cloth, but he had little choice. Squinting, a hint of blue and pink resting next to the dead woman’s outstretched hands caught his attention. Mike’s mouth went dry. He remembered what it was and how it got inside the vehicle.
“Jackson, where the hell are you?” Mike whispered, fully aware he wouldn’t hear an answer.
Flattening himself on the ground, he reached in, stretching his arm as far as he could. Bile rose in the back of his throat as his fingers touched the cold, dead body. Forcing the wave of disgust down, he continued to feel around for the baby blanket. He latched onto the soft material, yanking it free.
After wrapping the cloth around his head, Mike pulled the gun from the holster on the Humvee floor and looked around. The early morning sunrise helped him view the unfamiliar surroundings. Thankfully, no other vehicles were around, and no other corpses shambled about on dead legs.
“Okay, Mike. Think. Calm down and think! Allsop was in the passenger seat, and I was drivin’. We just passed Lead Hill. The woman! We stopped to help the woman with the kid!”
Squatting back down, he peered inside the Humvee. The memories of the young woman holding a toddler no older than two while flagging them down made his heart clench. Renee. She’d said her name was Renee Cramer, and she’d run out of gas while driving toward Branson where her parents lived. She’d been walking for hours in the middle of the road, trying to keep her son quiet as she headed toward the nearest town to seek shelter and food.
Where was the child?
Why had Renee turned?
Thinking back, he couldn’t recall her displaying any signs of being ill when they picked her up and offered a ride. Mike tried but couldn’t remember her turning. The memories he latched onto were her nursing the baby after she’d downed an entire bottle of water and the smell of a dirty diaper. A vague memory of the sound of her sniffling from the backseat made him wince. He’d assumed she’d been crying. Was it possible she’d snorted something and that’s how she’d turned? She hadn’t been bleeding and rode with them for almost an hour before things went south, so that had to be the reason.
Pushing aside the disgust of looking at what once had been Renee Cramer, he studied her face. She’d been shot once, right above the left eye. He checked his weapon—he still had a full clip—which meant either Allsop or someone else put her down.
Mike stood and looked around, seeing nothing but woods and a two-lane road. No houses; no signs of life. He ruled out someone else sneaking in and putting a bullet in Renee’s head. It had to have been Allsop, so again, where was he?
The Humvee was useless now, so whatever he decided to do next would have to be on foot. Walking over to the passenger side, he noted the door was open. Streaks of dried blood covered the passenger seat and door. One of the backpacks was still inside, so he pulled it out. Food, water, extra ammunition, and a flashlight, were inside. The destroyed remains of the radio littered the cab. He removed the flashlight and scanned the interior and around the outside of the door, hoping to find a clue as to what happened to Allsop.
A piece of oddly-shaped flesh rested on the ground about two feet away from the door. His heart rate spiked as he peered closer.
It was part of an earlobe.
On instinct, his hand checked both ears. They were intact, so he glanced one final time at Renee’s corpse.
She still had both earlobes too.
“Oh, God. It has to be Jackson’s!”
With no way to communicate with anyone, no vehicle to drive, and no idea where Allsop was, he realized he had one choice: Go on foot until he found other means of transportation.
“Dammit! We should have gone to Bentonville first! Oh, God, I’ll never make it on foot. It’s too far away!”
Mike danced on the edge of hysterics. The words he’d spoken to Walter, Reed, and Kyle had come back to haunt him. I’m not turnin’ around or givin’ up until I know—for sure, without a doubt—what happened to my family. If that means I need to leave and go out on foot alone, I will.
Frozen by fear, he stood next to the Humvee, staring at the empty road looming in front of him. Was his current predicament punishment for shooting Shaun? Maybe this was Karma’s way of making him pay for the colossal mistake of taking an innocent life? Or, was it Murphy’s Law? Kyle and the others warned of the dangers of helping strangers, yet they refused to listen. During their earlier drive, the conversation with Allsop centered on that very topic. How it was wrong to turn a blind eye to others in need; that wasn’t who they were. They’d been determined not to let the events of the past week turn them into cruel, selfish monsters. Allsop and Bailey were cops, trained to protect and serve, and they weren’t ready to give that part of their lives up.
They should have. Both men were still stuck in the old world, not the new, horrible one. Each was determined to retain their former thinking, and look what it cost them?
Reed Newberry was right—splitting up and going separate ways—no matter the reason, had been a huge mistake. He wished he’d listened because if he had, he wouldn’t be standing in the middle of an empty road, alone and terrified. Thinking about Reed and the others made a lump of regret press against his chest. He’d always admired Regina Parker’s spunk and strength, secretly trying to emulate her every move. He’d failed miserably. She’d given up her life to save others, and Mike Bailey knew he would never, ever be able to achieve the same sacrifice.
The eerie silence made goosebumps appear under his shirt. Mornings in the mountains were usually quiet, but the absence of any sounds of humanity was terrifying. No distant rumbles of vehicles; no voices; no planes overhead. No radio or TV chatter. No hum from the electrical wires above his head.
How many people were left? Did the government destroy everything the walking corpses didn’t all over the United States just as they’d done in Central Arkansas? Was the quest to find his parents a foolhardy one? Yes, it was, but there was nothing he could do to change the decision. He had two choices, and they were quite simple: Stay put or move.
Other than fear, the other reason tethering his feet to the ground was Allsop. Where did he go, and why did he leave Mike alone? Did he take the toddler with him, and if so, why? Should he wait a while for Allsop to return?
A slow burn of anger ignited in his gut. Allsop—for whatever reason—left him alone in the Humvee. Jackson didn’t even attempt to help him or bind his head wound. Allsop fled, leaving Mike alone and unconscious with a dead woman inside a crashed vehicle. All the words spoken about doing the right thing, helping others, were just hollow rhetoric from Jackson.
The anger allowed him to make his decision—he’d move. If Jackson left him alone to fend for himself, then that’s what he’d do. He wouldn’t wait around to see if his former friend returned. Jackson Allsop was on his own from a choice he made, not Mike.
Following the faint yellow lines in the middle of the road, his footfalls seemed loud in the quiet morning. Alternating between scanning the forest on each side of the road for any movement, he continued forward. A green roadside marker ahead confirmed he was on Highway 14, and Ridgedale, Missouri, was twenty-five miles away.
Struggling to shake the overwhelming sense of dread, he kept walking. Ridgedale was the next big town, and though it might be crawling with the dead, there’d be a police station. He could sneak in, find some more ammunition, maybe hole up in a back room and catch some rest. Hell, maybe some of the officers were still alive and they’d offer aide to a fellow cop. They might even give him a vehicle. If not, and he arrived to find the town full of nothing but corpses, he would resort to stealing a car or truck.
With bearings back in full swing, he picked up his pace. He could do this. He had to because his parents needed him to remain strong. Images of his elderly parents huddled in the basement of their house, terrified and hungry, urged him to put one foot in front of the other. His father had cataract surgery three weeks ago and wasn’t recovering as quickly as he should. It was why he had planned on spending Christmas with them at their house rather than have them attempt the long drive to Malvern.
With renewed purpose, Mike continued to scan the surroundings for any signs of life. The sun appeared, giving him plenty of light to keep an eye out for the dead. He stopped and grabbed a bottle of water from the backpack, taking a few sips. After putting the bottle back inside, he snatched a protein bar and started eating. He’d taken three bites when a weird noise reached his ears.
Swallowing the last mouthful, he shoved the remaining bar back inside and then stood. Something red on the ground to his right caught his attention. He didn’t need to investigate—he knew it was blood.
A lot of blood.
Removing his gun, he went into cop mode. His eyes took in everything around him. The woods were empty as far as he could see, yet the more steps he took, the louder the sound grew.
The road curved left and up a small incline. Mike followed the sounds and the trail of blood, ready to take down a muncher, wishing he had a knife with him too. He worried about the noise from discharging his gun, knowing it would alert any other monsters lurking in the woods.
As he topped the incline, he saw a shoe on the side of the road.
A child’s shoe.
The anger from before at Allsop leaving him alone disappeared. His instincts took over as he ran toward the lump of clothing on the side of the road. He recognized the jacket. It was Jackson, and he wasn’t moving.
The urge to run away or find out if his friend was dead competed for control of his mind. He fought the one to flee and continued forward, unwilling to walk away and leave Jackson injured on the side of the road—or worse.
“Please be okay. Please don’t be a corpse. Please don’t make me have to kill another friend,” Mike whispered, tears rolling down his cold cheeks.
Maintaining a good five feet of space between them, Mike stepped around to the front of Jackson’s body. He gasped at the horrid sight, his mind spinning at the mess in front of him.
He didn’t take time to determine which one was chewing on the other. The mass of gore and blood between Jackson and the toddler was undistinguishable. Instead of trying to figure out who was eating who, Mike screamed, “No!” and fired. He destroyed both heads with one shot.
Unable to stop, he crumpled to the ground, retching and gagging as he fell. Never, in his whole life, had he seen anything so foul or disturbing. In that split second of time, he knew Allsop left him alone—not because he didn’t care—but because he was trying save his friend’s life. Allsop gave up his own life and turned into a monster just so Mike could survive.
His mind gridlocked. All Mike Bailey could do was crawl away on all fours, curl up into a ball, and sob on the side of the road.
This is the end, and now, I’m all alone. Please, God, forgive me for thinking it, but let Mom and Dad be dead already. Not reanimated. Dead. Oblivious. They don’t need to live in this nightmare, and for that matter, I don’t either.
With shaky fingers, Mike raised the gun. The barrel was still hot when it touched his lips. Between great sobs, he faintly registered the sound of a vehicle approaching.
He didn’t care. When the car stopped and someone jumped out, Mike didn’t even look up.
“No, don’t! Things will be okay, son! I’m here to help, not harm. I’m still alive and not part of the government, I promise.”
The voice sounded familiar—a sure sign to Mike he was hallucinating. There was no way the voice belonged to him! Even if by some slim chance the voice wasn’t a product of Mike’s imagination, it wouldn’t matter anyway. Mike was ready to go and wipe the horrors from his mind with one burst of hot lead.
“Son, put the gun down. You aren’t alone any longer. Now, neither am I, praise God! You’re hurt, but it doesn’t look like a bite, so I can help patch up the wound. Don’t let your life end on the side of the road by your own hands when salvation is mere feet away.”
The heavy sorrow in the words broke through Mike’s soul. He almost laughed at the word salvation. What a colossal joke!
Glancing up, it took his brain a few seconds to confirm the disheveled man staring at him matched the voice. “Pastor Trent? What are you doin’ here? I thought you went to West Plains with your family and the others? Are you real or a figment of my broken mind?”
A warm smile spread across the old man’s face as his shoulders sagged with relief. “Mike? Mike Bailey, is that you?”
Mike let his head nod once in agreement, pushing back the blanket to reveal his full face.
“Well, I’ll be! Haven’t been this happy in days! Am I real? Yes. I’m pastor of nothin’ anymore, but it’s me. Come on and get in. You look hungry, tired, and at the end of a dangerous rope. I’ve got a place nearby where you can rest and eat. Don’t give up now, son. Don’t. You need me, and I could use the companionship.”
Hanging his head in shame, Mike sobbed. “I can’t….I won’t….The images won’t leave my head. I’m done with all this.”
Gravel crunched, and a warm hand touched Mike’s shoulder. “You can, you will, and memories fade over time. Let’s get off this road before any of the unfortunates are drawn to the sound of the car or us jabberin’.”
Mike let Pastor Trent help him to his feet, following him to the beat-up Chevy idling in the middle of the road. “What happened to the Humvee you were drivin’?”
A shadow of sadness filled Trent’s eyes. “Same as what’s happened to most everybody. It died.”
Mike waited until inside the warm interior before saying anything else. “That’s what you call them? Unfortunates?”
Sliding behind the wheel, the old man gave Mike a weary grin. “That’s what they are—unfortunate, reanimated shells. The term is much better than zombies, don’t you agree? What could be more unfortunate than your body being controlled by the Devil himself, and you’re helpless to do a thing about it?”
Wiping the snot and tears from his chin, Mike nodded yet didn’t respond as the car passed the remains of Jackson and the kid.
Unfortunates, indeed. Then again, those of us still alive are too—unfortunates who get to witness the destruction of society.
Monday, August 14, 2017
Marriage Made Me Do It
It is time to offer up two fabulous gifts to one lucky winner! If you are interested in entering the contest for my upcoming dark comedy released by HarperCollins Publishers UK, Marriage Made Me Do It, keep reading!
THIS IS THE LIFE I WANTED, RIGHT?
Ignoring the droning voice of the old man talking up front, I let my thoughts wander. As usual, they went back to my youth. Growing up in the Seventies and Eighties, I was blissfully ignorant of how screwed-up my life would turn out when I reached the A-word: Adulthood.
I’m the oldest sibling of three girls born into a middle-class family. We grew up living in the suburbs, safely hidden from the dangers of “the big city.” God, life back then had been a breeze. We walked to school, without fear of stranger danger, on sidewalks wide enough for three people to stand side by side, with shade provided by sprawling oak trees. We played with our friends—outside, mind you—until the streetlight in our cul-de-sac buzzed, ready to come on. We didn’t have electric gadgets to tether us inside, weakening our bodies and turning our minds to mush. Nope! We survived skinned knees and bike wrecks, eager to go out and do the same thing again the next day after school. We’d run to the house and land on the porch before the streetlight sparked to life and eat a home cooked meal—at all places—the dinner table.
We weren’t rich, like my best friend Elizabeth Gelmini’s family—they had a swimming pool and a tennis court, for Godsakes, and both her parents drove BMWs—but we weren’t poor, either. Since I was the oldest, I got the new clothes, and my younger sisters, Rebecca and Rachel, were forced to wear my hand-me-downs. Boy, do I miss the days when Rebecca whined and complained while stomping around in her Pepto-Bismol-colored room throwing hissy fits as only a pre-pubescent girl can.
“I don’t want Roxy’s clothes! Look, Mom! There’s a stain on these jeans. And this shirt is so out of style! No one wears puffed sleeves anymore! I’ll look like a fool and all my friends will laugh at me. Why can’t I get a new pair of Calvin’s or Jordache’s? Tennis shoes without holes in them, or even the latest design of a shirt?”
“Rebecca Denise, that’s enough. Money doesn’t grow on trees, you know. Your father works very hard to provide a good life for you girls so I can stay home and raise you. Stop being so unappreciative. I didn’t give up a chance for a career in nursing just to listen to an ungrateful child yell at me.”
“Mom! I can’t wear her shirts. Roxy’s big boobs stretched them out! I’ll have to stuff my bra!”
The memory made me smile, which I quickly concealed with my hand. This was not the place or appropriate time to be happy.
I glanced over at Rebecca. Though her features had matured and changed, her attitude certainly remained the same. Rebecca was the quintessential middle child. Textbook case. Hell, her picture was probably underneath the caption “Middle Child Syndrome” in every psychology book on the planet. If it wasn’t, they were missing out on the perfect poster child.
Cosmos, forgive me, but I’ve hated her ever since the day my parents brought her whiny ass home from the hospital.
Mom and Dad lived by The Suburbia Handbook. Roger and Claire Rayburn built their lives around the ancient, mental code of ethics. Mom and Dad almost nailed Rule Number Two, chapter and verse.
All married couples must procreate and raise, at a minimum, 3.2 children, preferably staggered in ages by three years.
They missed the target goal by having offspring of the same sex. They needed at least one with a set of balls to pass with flying colors. Unfortunately, the estrogen pool was deeper and stronger—or perhaps Daddy’s sperm refused to bring forth another knuckle-dragger into the world. Who knows? But, they made up for missing the bar by acing Rule Number One: High school sweethearts must marry; the wife is to stay at home and raise the children while the husband brings home the bacon.
Like my mother, I aced Rule Number One—the track star married the football jock. Boom! Item number one checked off the list. I didn’t count the demerit (we had to get married our second year of college). Getting married at 20 wasn’t because of overwhelming, all-consuming, mind-altering love. Nope. I tied the knot with Carl A. Davenport because I neglected to read the instructions that came along with the prescription—taking antibiotics might disrupt the effectiveness of birth control pills.
Fuck. I got knocked up at 20 because of a freaking sinus infection.
No, wait, I wouldn’t count that one. It was the manufacturer’s fault—they should have written that part in big, GIANT print, rather than using letters so small one could only read with a microscope.
Carl continued his studies and obtained a master’s degree in education and was now a tenured professor at the local college. Me? I gave up the dream of going back to school, following the guidelines of the invisible handbook passed on to me by my mother. I was a “stay-at-home Mom” (better known as Drunk Wino). I tried to follow the rules, but sometimes missed the mark. No one could ever label me an overachiever!
Rule Number Two altered a bit during the Nineties—inflation and such—and the required number of children went from 3.2 to 2.5 (unless you were a devout Catholic and preferred to birth an entire baseball team). I failed Rule Number Two and only popped out one child—a daughter— who decided I was the Wicked Witch of the West, minus a broom, when she hit puberty. Hormones turned my sweet child into a raging alien life force. Thank goodness Carol planned to attend college in a few weeks or our home would be a demilitarized zone.
God, I really miss Carol being little. My daughter is a replicated copy of me. Carol had dark, thick black hair; alabaster skin; long legs and full lips, and thankfully, a rack smaller than mine. Carol had been an inquisitive child, full of life, a sweet laugh, and boundless energy. A tiny shadow stuck to my side, mimicking everything I did. That lasted until Carol hit the age of 5 then poof! My clone rebelled, running in the opposite direction of my life. I sensed the disturbance in the force, so instead of attempting to indoctrinate Carol’s mind with the rules, I simply hoped she’d follow them later in life, after watching me from a distance.
Carol Claire Davenport put as much distance as possible between my world and the one she desired to live. Headstrong, and determined to succeed in life without a man’s help, paying her own way through life, and—gasp!—hiring help to perform such trivial tasks as cleaning or cooking, Carol bucked tradition every chance she had, including phases of punk haircuts, head-to-toe black clothing and makeup (for a while, it felt like Morticia Addams lived in our house) and refusing to clean her room. My little straight-A student and lovely mixture of introvert and extrovert wanted nothing to do with my “old school ways” as she liked to refer to how I lived my life. Carol idolized her aunt Rachel’s free-spirited approach to life, and jumped at every chance to spend time with Rach when she was in town.
Had I wanted another brat—er—offspring—I was shit out of luck. My ovaries opted to shrivel up and die not long after Carol was born. Maybe my body had the ability to see into the future and knew I couldn’t handle raising another bundle of flesh I’d give up my life for only to have him or her turn on me the second puberty hit. Yeah, that was it. Thank God for omniscient reproductive organs! There is a clause in the Handbook noting bodily failure in Rule Number Two, which kept me from accruing a demerit.
I took after my mother’s side of the genetic pool. Jet-black hair, long legs, and boobs the size of ripe watermelons. Everyone else adored my full chest, but not me. Carrying all the weight around—every freaking day—was painful. Running track was dangerous. I had to wear three sports bras just to corral the heavy flesh so I didn’t bust an eye socket. By the time I was 25, back problems surfaced, along with my preferred method of numbing the pain: Drinking wine. That little lesson landed on my doorstep, courtesy of Mom and Grandma. I watched them down wine like it was fresh mountain water all my life. Of course, they preceded the wine with handfuls of pills—Valium for Grandma and Xanax for Mom—a tradition I didn’t follow.
Other women flocked to their nearest plastic surgeon to get implants to look like me, which I found rather amusing. Why, oh why in the world did they do it? Personally, I think it should be required pre-surgical treatment to strap two, 10 lb weights on their chests for at least a full month. Get the entire “heavy breast experience” prior to undergoing the knife. Just one month of being forced to sleep on their backs, trying to find a bra that fits, enduring catcalls, and never having a man look you in the eye while speaking—ever again—would deter most. Give them a real taste of what to expect, before having some cocaine-addicted surgeon slice into their milk dispensers so they could then afford the newest Mercedes to drive around town.
Rule Number Eight: One must always drive a vehicle that is better than the ones owned by friends and neighbors. (This is not a guideline it’s a hard-core edict! See Rule Number Nine about houses, too).
Then again, maybe the wretched experience with strap-on boobs wouldn’t matter. The media had ingrained its warped perception of beauty since the dawn of the big screen and TV. Boys were indoctrinated with ridiculous, impossible body types as their ideals, and young girls learned to be ashamed they weren’t “perfect” every single time they looked in a magazine, watched a movie, or plopped in front of the boob tube. Ah! Lightbulb alert! Boob tube—an appropriate name! And who paid for this mind-altering phenomenon? Not the men. They reaped the benefits of unhappy girls who went under the knife.
I sought out, and found, a surgeon to reduce my oversized chest, much to the dismay of my husband, Carl (yet another young boy whose views of beauty were warped by media-generated garbage). For the first time since puberty dumped too many hormones into my breasts, I could walk around without a bra on and it didn’t look like two baby hippos were fighting under my shirt. Hallelujah! After going from cup size Holy Shit Those Are Huge down to Gee, I’m No Longer Carrying Fucking Watermelons On My Chest—Just Nice Oranges, I continued my relationship with wine. Why the hell not? Several glasses of Moscato each night kept me from acting out my sick, knife-wielding fantasies on those who’d pissed me off one way or another.
Though I wore the persona of a normal, well-adjusted person for others to see, inside my mind had always been a different story. Even when young, I learned to fake the smile and serene demeanor when faced with adversity, only unleashing my real emotions inside. Rather than slit the throat of my fourth grade teacher for dressing me down in front of the entire class over what she perceived as a “less than stellar” book report, I remained quiet. After school that day, I went home and took out my anger on one of Rebecca’s favorite dolls.
Adhering to the strict set of proper and correct rules for living, I refrained from punching in the throat—or worse—rude cashiers, snarky friends, impatient waitresses or any short‑tempered individuals within my hearing range. Instead, I satisfied my dark, demented thoughts of retribution by simply envisioning my reactions.
Ol’ middle sis Rebecca didn’t have the same worries, for her body had been dipped in the pool of mishmash genes from my father’s side of the family. Shorter legs, smaller breasts, dingy brown hair, and an attitude the size of Texas. Oh, and Dad’s horrible eyesight. When she found out she needed to start wearing glasses—the kind as thick as Coke bottles—Rebecca Denise Rayburn flew into the biggest, ugliest, snot-filled tantrum of all time.
It was hysterical. I laughed so hard while she bawled and squalled like a newborn kitten, Dad grounded me for a week. Those seven days of banishment to my room had been worth the few minutes of hilarity at Rebecca’s expense.
If I had to pinpoint the moment our sisterly relationship curdled like sour milk, it would be the day she came home with enormous frames swallowing her small face. I teased her nonstop for hours until she sobbed. And no, an additional week of grounding didn’t faze me in the least.
Things were never right between us again. We’d fought before, but after the incident of the poor eyesight, it was full-on war. Roxy versus Rebecca was probably foretold by some ancient sage—detailing the apocalyptic event between two strong-willed, mean-as-fuck women.
Not that I gave a rat’s ass. Rebecca was a bitch. A raving, I’m-off-my-meds, lunatic bitch. When the song “Lunatic Fringe,” by Red Rider hit the airwaves in 1981, I changed the title and words to “Lunatic Bitch,” in honor of my insane sister. Rebecca didn’t stick to the rulebook completely. Yes, she married her high school sweetheart right after college, but she went to work immediately after graduating with a degree in accounting. Bucking tradition, Rebecca paid the bills while her hubster finished med school.
Rebecca earned another bad mark for not giving birth. Mom gave her—and Rachel—grief for years to give her grandchildren. Apparently, my single contribution wasn’t enough. Before Mom’s mind traveled to a new dimension, she’d whine and bitch about how all her friends had several grandchildren to spoil.
Rachel, on the other hand, was the best sibling ever created from the union of an egg and sperm. Ever. She was kindhearted, full of smiles, never a complainer, which was sort of odd since she was the baby. Rachel was a free spirit, flitting from one moment to the next, distracted easily by a light wind, never one to hold a grudge. Rachel wasn’t as tall as me, yet had a similar build. She’d been born with an ample chest, thick, mahogany hair, and generous curves.
Out of the three of us Rayburn girls, Rachel was the animal lover, though Rebecca attempted to keep up, yet always failed (i.e., Rebecca neglected to remember animals need to eat or they die). Every baby bird on the ground, abandoned cat, scrawny stray dog, half-dead hamster—they gravitated to Rachel’s sweet soul. Like some cosmic connection, a weird instinct guided them to head directly into her path. And sure enough, Rachel Danielle Rayburn scooped them up and brought them home, much to the dismay of our parents.
I didn’t have any lovey-dovey, sisterly, protective feelings toward Rebecca (again, Lunatic Bitch), but boy, I sure did with Rachel. Instead of getting caught up in the Eighties’ drug scene (like Rebecca and I both dabbled with—Lunatic Bitch snorted so much she had to stop and have surgery for a deviated septum—ha!) Rachel was the exception to the hedonistic lifestyle embraced by most.
Looking back on it now, it was kind of like Rachel was an old soul meant to be in her teenage years during the Sixties. Rachel would have been the perfect flower child, right at home in Haight-Ashbury, wearing flowy dresses, her dark mahogany hair dotted with flowers as it billowed around her sexy body. Well, a flower child minus the drug part. To my knowledge, Rachel never got high or drunk. Life, and all it had to offer, was enough stimulation for my baby sister.
God, I miss her so much. It isn’t right. Carol and Rachel were my two reasons for living. Rachel should be here, sitting on the stiff, uncomfortable pew, mourning the loss of one of her screwed-up sisters, not the other way around. Rachel’s life ended with eerie finality before the age of 35, damn near close to how Dad always said it would: Animals would be her downfall.
Rachel’s ill-fated stint working undercover for some whiny, ASPCA-type sacks of shit, ended her life. While trying to save a dog from being put down, Rachel suffered a wicked bite. Instead of going to the doctor immediately, she waited until infection set in—and rabies. For two weeks, doctors fought to save her life, yet failed. The only Rayburn daughter to toss The Suburbia Handbook to the wayside and live in—gasp!—the big city, was dead. I hate myself for thinking it, but I’m sort of glad Dad passed on and Mom is lost inside her mind, wandering the locked hallways of Dementia Hotel.
No parent should have to bury their child. It was wrong—a crime against the natural progression of the way the world was supposed to work.
**Here are the prizes one lucky winner will receive - open to U.S. residents only and must be 21 years of age or older to win.**
One bottle of Moscato especially designed for the book, along with an engraved wine glass PLUS a signed copy of the paperback.
To enter, you must be the first person to comment with the correct answer to this question:
What is Roxy's final rule?
Marriage Made Me Do It releases on September 15, 2017. Preorder your copy now so you will have the answer on release day!
One bottle of Moscato especially designed for the book, along with an engraved wine glass PLUS a signed copy of the paperback.
To enter, you must be the first person to comment with the correct answer to this question:
What is Roxy's final rule?
Marriage Made Me Do It releases on September 15, 2017. Preorder your copy now so you will have the answer on release day!
Thursday, June 29, 2017
Tuesday, June 6, 2017
Blood Loss Sneak Peek
Camden, Arkansas – Saturday, March 2, 1957 – 10:00 p.m.
The cold winter rain started out as sporadic drops when she left the inconspicuous home hiding dark deeds behind its walls. When she stepped off the bus on the outskirts of town (much to the dismay of the annoyed driver), the droplets morphed into a heavy downpour, along with a thick blanket of fog.
Carolyn sighed and continued trudging through the secondary streets skirting the edge of town. The past thirty minutes were spent in a painful blur, each step slow while fighting to overcome waves of dizziness and nausea. She had no choice but to steer her sore body clear of the main thoroughfares of downtown Camden. Though not many, there were a few streetlights dotting the walkways, and even with the viscous fog coating the air, a moving body could still be spotted.
It was Saturday night, the air frigid and the streets slick with water and a bit treacherous, yet some people would be out and about. War and Peace was headlining at the Malco Theater—a movie she had looked forward to seeing with Jefferson—and though unsure what time it was, Carolyn guessed it was close to 10:30 p.m. Those who’d attended the 8:05 p.m. showing would soon swarm the streets.
She didn’t want to be spotted by anyone, preferring to keep the shameful action done to her body earlier a closely-guarded secret. She’d paid almost fifty dollars—an entire month’s pay—and would do whatever necessary to never let anyone else get a whiff of the dirtiness permanently etched inside her soul.
Enough already knew, and Carolyn feared she was tempting fate by sneaking back home, but the pull, the overwhelming urge to be cocooned in familiarity, was too strong to fight.
The wretched nightmare of what she did would follow her to the grave. Carolyn wrestled to tamp it down and tuck the memories away inside the deepest recesses of her mind. Though she didn’t have much of one, what little reputation she had would be ruined if ever discovered by some random townsfolk venturing out in the frigid weather.
The thought of Miss Maud or even her strange husband, Clyde, finding out what their charge had done in the adjoining county made a shiver sprint up her back. And that is exactly what would happen if Carolyn didn’t remain carefully hidden. Camden was a small town full of grousing harpies with two-sided mouths—one for spouting virtues, platitudes, and Bible verses and the other for spewing vicious gossip about anyone and everyone. The venom-filled barbs didn’t care if the subject was a close friend, family member, politician, or clergy.
Passing by the ostentatious sign that read Camden – Queen City of the South, Carolyn grimaced. There wasn’t anything stately or royal about the small town perched on a bluff overlooking the Ouachita River. The prosperity from the steamboat era had waned, giving way to the oil, gas and timber industry. The stench of rotten eggs filled the summer air from the paper mills at the edge of town. The only other businesses that flourished in the once humming town were the Grapette plant and Camark Pottery.
“If only I’d been able to work at those places instead of the silly grocery store! If I had, perhaps I wouldn’t be in the situation I am now,” Carolyn muttered to herself.
As she passed the old McCollum-Chidester House, made famous by being the headquarters of the Union soldiers during the Civil War, Carolyn scowled at the thought of damn Yankees stinking up the town.
Keeping close to the shadows as she rounded the corner onto Greening Street, every inch of her body screamed for her to stop moving. She pushed on instead of succumbing to the temptation to rest. It was only a few more blocks to traipse across until she reached Clifton Street and crept inside the stately colonial she’d called home for several years. If she could make it around back without being detected, she could simply climb the trellis to her room and sneak inside. She’d seen Leah do it numerous times over the years, and it looked easy. Of course, Leah’s journeys up and down the trellis had been performed without a body wracked with pain.
“They should have let me stay. I couldn’t help crying! Too much blood and pain!” Carolyn whispered to herself, breath expelling from her lungs in plumes of steam.
The intense cramping in her lower regions made her bite down with force to keep the yelps of anguish inside. The near-frozen raindrops peppered her face like tiny shards of glass, turning the warm tears leaking from her eyes into cold dribbles.
She should have been more prepared, asked Leah deeper, probing questions about the before, during, and after sections of the procedures, yet she didn’t. Ashamed, frightened, and overwrought with worry, Carolyn didn’t think about such trivial things like packing extra sets of hosiery, warmer clothes, an old pair of shoes to wear, or how she’d be in such agony hours after the abortion was completed. A wave of anger flourished inside her chest, yet not enough to warm her frozen soul and limbs. Leah should have told her what to expect since she’d endured the procedure twice.
Leah gave off the air of a proper lady, playing the game in front of Mr. and Mrs. Clyde Crawford and all their friends, yet Carolyn, Cindy, and Claire knew the real Leah—the girl who frequented the dive bars the soldiers from Shumaker Naval Ammunition Base hung out at, including The Pines and The Rendezvous Club—was really a shady young woman with loose morals who made more money in one night than Carolyn made in two months.
Leah had promised her things would be okay, that she could stay overnight with the “doctor” and his “wife” in case of complications, and the next day, she would feel fine while riding the bus back from the fake “visit to El Dorado,” looking for work and a place to live.
No one would ever know about the pregnancy since Carolyn hadn’t started showing yet. Leah assured Carolyn with a lopsided grin and warm hand gently patting Carolyn’s knotted shoulder while lying through crooked, yellowed teeth stained from smoking cigarettes.
She rued those mistakes with each rain-soaked step. The warm stockings she’d worn on her way to end the nightmare growing inside her belly were only trapping the cold rain against her fragile skin. Rivulets of clear liquid ran down her face, dripping off the tip of her nose, following a haphazard path down her torso and ending in her soggy shoes.
An umbrella would have been welcome, yet it was another item her frazzled mind forgot to consider. The past two weeks were a blur of hysteria.
Like a naïve fool, Carolyn assumed Jefferson would smile and offer a marriage proposal at the news of his impending fatherhood. That was not even close to what happened. Harsh reality balled up its fist and sucker-punched Carolyn square in the face, knocking her off the ledge of fairy tale and fantasy.
Jefferson Osborne, Carolyn’s one and only lover, the man who’d worked beside her for months at the Piggly Wiggly after drifting into town with nothing but good looks and a hot car, freaked. Jefferson, who’d whispered snippets of undying love in the backseat of his souped-up coupe on New Year’s Eve, ran like a startled chicken.
The husky words he’d spoken that melted Carolyn’s shields and led to a night of passion were gone, replaced by angry growls of Carolyn’s stupidity for getting “knocked up” and how he wouldn’t raise an “ankle-biter with the likes of you! You ain’t nothin’ but poor, white trash. Ain’t even got a family! No lineage, no nothin’!”
Enraged and heartbroken, Carolyn shot back that Jefferson told her he’d left Pine Bluff and wound up in Camden to escape from the ties to his, as he put it, “worthless family” and had no right to criticize.
Jefferson responded by slapping her in the face, and the relationship was over before really having a chance to grow. He fled town, and probably Arkansas, in the middle of the night. When he didn’t show up for work, the managers and other employees of the Piggly Wiggly offered consoling words like “Don’t worry, Carolyn, he’ll be back” or “Boys—they’ve got to sow their oats before settlin’ down” or even the occasional, “He was too shady, too wild. You’re better off with a solid, homegrown boy.”
They were right.
Carolyn considered herself a good girl, unlike Leah and the others. She never went with them to hang out with the rowdy soldiers—she’d developed a thick distaste for the men when they came into the store to shop. Jefferson was another story. He was good looking and somewhat rebellious—a small town’s James Dean. Every girl in Camden wanted him and Carolyn felt a burst of pride when he’d picked her as his girlfriend.
What was said behind her back, whispered in hushed tones to eager ears, eyes dancing with delight while offering conjectured opinions about the demise of the relationship, was a different story. Carolyn had the misfortune of overhearing the stinging words one day as a group of employees gabbed in the stock room.
She’d worked the rest of her shift in silence, refusing to add more tinder to the stoked fires of Grade-A gossip. Instead of taking the bus home that night, Carolyn had walked the entire way, letting the hot tears come hard and fast as the cold night air dried them away. When she arrived home, no one questioned the reasons behind her flushed, red face because everyone at the Crawford house assumed it was from the frigid air.
They’d been way off base, just as she’d been about the father of her child.
When it dawned on her Jefferson wasn’t coming back, Carolyn’s mind went into panic mode. Breaking down one night, she’d told her roommate, Leah, the awful news. Between sobbing and pacing around the small area they shared and called home, Leah offered a way out. Carolyn latched on to the lifeline as though she truly were drowning in the Ouachita River.
She’d promised herself she wouldn’t cry, but no matter how hard she tried to keep them in, the tears continued to stream down her face. She wondered why God hated her so much. Miss Maud said the Lord loves everyone, but Carolyn had serious doubts. If some being truly existed in the stars above, why did he decide Carolyn deserved a life full of pain and misery? Hadn’t she already endured enough?
More than anything, Carolyn yearned to curl up in a ball under a warm blanket and disappear inside dreams of her youth, yet she concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other. She’d disciplined herself not to reminisce on the happy memories of childhood while awake. They were too heart-wrenching for the conscious realm.
Unfortunately, the emotional impact of what she’d done overrode the mental shields she’d erected.
Legally an adult for less than a month, it didn’t matter. Carolyn Singleton craved her mother’s calming presence—her warm spirit and loving, non-judgmental eyes. The urge to rest her weary head on the soft lap of the woman who’d given birth to her, raised her alone and gently murmured each night that “everything will be all right, my angel,” made a lump of salty tears press against her parched throat.
Thirteen years hadn’t been enough time. Charlene Robinson Singleton, wife of Corporal Reggie Singleton, killed in combat in 1952 in Korea, tried her best to raise their only child alone. Three months later, body worn out from working two jobs, mind still processing the loss of her mate, and soul unhealed from the loss, Charlene’s heart took its last beat, leaving Carolyn Renee Singleton a ward of the state. She’d been a frightened wisp of a child surrounded by callous adults shuffling her around like an annoying toy until Maud Crawford appeared in the judge’s office, her stern face and tight red curls interspersed with flecks of gray, intervened, and offered “the poor child” a place to live and thrive.
Ever since that day so many years ago, Carolyn Singleton grew up in a household reared by an elderly couple who were kind and gentle at times yet also strict. Chores were many and arduous, grades were expected to be high, and once graduation happened, a job secured and rent paid each week. Maud and Clyde told them the rules would shape and mold the wayward girls into proper wives later in life. They were “building the groundwork by removing the rough edges of their unpolished previous upbringings.”
An ugly sneer pulled Carolyn’s lips upward. If the uptight Crawfords knew what their charges were really doing under the cover of darkness, they’d keel over from shock.
Carolyn kept quiet and did as she was told, never once complaining. To keep from going insane, she counted the days until her eighteenth birthday, knowing she would be granted her freedom to leave.
She’d planned on departing with Jefferson and starting a new life in a town full of less secrets and more anonymity.
The steady thrum of pelting rain and the squish-squash, squish-squash of her footfalls were the only sounds reaching her ears. She hated almost every aspect of living in such a small town, yet tonight, as she wound her way through the tangle of streets, she was grateful for the minimal population. She hadn’t seen one automobile in over ten minutes, which was a relief. Though chilled to the bone as the rain seeped through the threadbare clothes she wore, the rain seemed to have kept a major portion of the residents of Camden, which hovered near the fifteen-thousand mark, inside their warm homes.
Tonight, the number had decreased by one.
Carolyn shuddered at the memory of lying on the linen-covered table, probably once a place used to dine on traditional southern delicacies, letting a stranger probe and touch her in places only one other had before, causing immeasurable pain rather than pleasure.
She shouldn’t have gone alone. Leah should have come along…offered her support. She’d considered telling Miss Maud initially yet decided she couldn’t stand another lecture about being a proper southern lady, one who holds her virginity up as a trophy to dangle at potential suitors. The elderly woman would always say, “A proper lady waits to offer the gift of her purity to a man worthy enough to value it.”
Maud had been right all along. About everything. Carolyn felt a twinge of guilt for the bad thoughts about the woman earlier. Though stoic and tough, Maud Crawford was a good woman with a heart for the unfortunate.
A sputter of fresh tears erupted from Carolyn’s eyes at the memory as she turned onto Clifton Street, eyeing the sprawling Crawford home shrouded in soupy mist. The memory of the first day she arrived and how overwhelmed and excited she’d been to call the beautiful place home made her chest ache.
“Stop it. It’s over and time to move on. Get inside and warm up, rest, and then tomorrow, pack up and truly go to El Dorado. Leave this horrid town and never look back. No more chores. No more Clyde skulking around the corners, watching all us girls with his dark, unreadable eyes. No more standing on my feet for hours at the Piggly Wiggly. No more lectures from Miss Maud about purity and virtues.”
The quiet murmurings of mental assurances abruptly halted as a set of headlights pierced through the thick veil of fog. The sight was followed by the sound of an engine greeting Carolyn’s ears. On instinct, fearing it was Clyde returning home from the movie, she darted behind the closest magnolia tree at the edge of Mrs. Berg’s property and crouched down. No, it couldn’t be Clyde. He always went to the bar after a movie. Maybe it was later than she thought?
The thundering of her heart nearly drowned out Tab Hunter’s “Young Love” blaring from the radio as the dark sedan passed by. Another round of silent tears appeared as Tab’s smooth voice sang about true love, first love, and undying devotion. The song made her think of Jefferson’s betrayal. Carolyn clamped her hand over her mouth to keep the sobs inside her throat.
Holding still until she couldn’t hear anything but the rain once more, Carolyn stood, gaze sweeping the left and right sides of the street for any more vehicles or random residents on their porches. Seeing no one, she darted across the street. She still hurt, yet the close call of being discovered set her nerves singing, allowing her to ignore the soreness.
Latching on to the trellis, Carolyn prayed for strength to climb and not lose her grip on the slick wood. If she fell, she’d break her neck. Another was said that Miss Maud’s scary dog, Dal, wouldn’t hear her over the pelting rain. Desperate to override the fear making her hands shake, she pictured herself as her favorite heroine—Nancy Drew—on a mission to rescue or save some hapless soul from certain death. Taking a deep breath, she clawed her up to the window, pushed up the sash, and was halfway inside when the porch light in the back flicked on at the same time the low rumble of a vehicle sounded in the driveway.
Clyde must be home! Oh no!
Dal barked once from downstairs.
The faint, familiar lilt of Miss Maud’s voice drifted up the stairs as she shushed him.
The sound of footsteps crossing the hardwood floors made her stomach shudder.
With but a split second to decide whether to continue forward into the room or slip back outside and risk being seen by Clyde, Carolyn opted for the first choice as a plausible lie about her predicament formed easily inside her mind.
I’ll just tell her Jefferson and I had a big fight after he pressured me to do things an unmarried woman doesn’t do! That I thought we were eloping but Jefferson’s plan was to lure me out alone and have his way with me. I’ll apologize for lying about El Dorado when I was really out with Jefferson, but that I came home the second I understood what Jefferson had really wanted.
The concocted excuse waned as Carolyn’s hands touched the cool hardwood. Just as the first leg made it through the windowsill, she realized the footsteps stopped.
Dal growled low and throaty as the sound of heavy footsteps echoed from the kitchen.
The soaked hair on Carolyn’s skin stood erect. Unexplainable tension—no, foreboding—settled over her mind.
“What are you doin’ here?”
The question, a mixture of irritation and fear, was never finished. Another ominous grumble from the dog’s muzzle ceased in mid-growl, just like his mistress’s question.
“Leave him alone!” Maud yelled.
The plea was followed by two distinct thumps. A weird human grunt came next and then…dead silence.
Carolyn’s senses buzzed with fear as strange sounds floated up the stairwell—footsteps and more thumps and the faint chatter of some show on the television downstairs. The familiar, grating squeak of the kitchen screen door was next. Contorting her neck at an unnatural angle, she stared out the window.
Faint wisps gray fog swirled away from the intrusion of the porch light. Expecting to see Clyde’s vehicle in the rear parking area, Carolyn saw an image that would change the course of her life.
The sedan wasn’t Clyde’s, and someone dressed in all black—a man she assumed, based on the build—carried Miss Maud’s unmoving body like he was hauling a sack of grain wearing a floral print dress over his broad shoulders. The woman’s head lolled around, bouncing off the intruder’s back with each step. In a flash, the trunk was opened and her limp body tossed inside without care. The dark figure stopped and looked around once after closing the trunk, searching, Carolyn assumed, to ensure he was alone.
The waves of light caught his face for a brief second—long enough for the breath to leave her lungs in a giant whoosh.
She recognized him.
Oh, God. Please don’t let him see me. Does he know I’m here? Is he coming back to get me too? What in the world has he done? Why?
With a few quick steps, he slipped into the driver’s side and the engine purred to life. Without turning on the headlights, the car shot forward and disappeared into the haze of fog and rain.
Unsure what just happened or what to do, her mind gridlocked. After what seemed like five minutes, her arms began to quake from holding the same position. Fearing they would give out and she would tumble onto the floor, she finished climbing inside.
The shakes from fear and cold made her teeth chatter. Dazed, sore, and so terrified she couldn’t even gasp, her mind wouldn’t engage. For another several minutes, Carolyn tried to process what she’d witnessed yet came up blank. Why? What in the world could a boring, sixty-plus-year-old woman have done to deserve to be snatched up and—dear God, kidnapped?—in the middle of the night by him?
Carolyn Singleton’s mind suddenly went from neutral to high gear. She didn’t waste any more time trying to figure out why. She may be poor, white trash like Jefferson said, but she wasn’t stupid.
Something sinister, something really, really ugly and disturbing just happened.
She wanted no part of it.
For a split second, she contemplated calling the police. How in the world would she explain her appearance? Where she’d been? Why she was all wet and why she’d climbed up the trellis rather than going through the front door? With a quick jerk of her head, she shook the idea from her mind. It was too risky.
The only thoughts controlling her now were simple—change clothes, pack all she owned, clean up the traces of the water from her soaked clothes pooled on the floor, and get the hell out of Camden, Arkansas—forever—before she was the next victim.
Stripping off her clothes, Carolyn crept over to the chifferobe she shared with Leah. In the dark, she yanked out what she hoped were her clothes, tossing them onto the bed. In less than a minute, she was dressed in a warm, dry set. Then she dropped to her knees and felt under the bed. The old suitcase, left there by a previous boarder who died the year prior, slid out without a sound. After wrapping her wet clothes in an extra pillow case, she stuffed them alongside the dry ones. Snatching a fluffy towel from the dresser, she wiped up all the water and then deposited it, too, into the overstuffed suitcase.
Once finished, she didn’t even think about the ramifications of rifling through Leah’s private drawers. She knew Leah kept a wad of cash hidden in the back corner in an old brassiere and had no doubts that if the situation were reversed, Leah wouldn’t hesitate stealing from her for one second.
Feeling around, she found the bra and was surprised it contained a large bulge. Nestled next to the other undergarments was a small clutch. She decided to take it as well, hoping more cash was squirreled away inside. Without counting the amount, Carolyn’s last item was a rain slicker. Once dressed with suitcase in hand, she stared out the window, terrified of climbing back down.
She had little choice. The thought of going downstairs made her shudder. She didn’t stop to think about what others would think about her fleeing into the night, perhaps blaming the disappearance of her guardian on Carolyn. There wasn’t enough time to consider all options or think rationally.
Carolyn’s thoughts were all about survival.
Tossing the suitcase out the window, thrilled the rain had let up, Carolyn heard it land with a soft thump on the soaked ground. While shimmying down the trellis, she prayed the latch remained closed rather than busting open and spilling the contents all over the backyard.
It held, and it was the first thing to go right for her in over three months.
Carolyn fled as though the devil was right behind her, the pain in her body nothing more than a distant memory. She didn’t look back, didn’t stop, until she was on the other side of town at the bus depot. The initial idea to escape to El Dorado passed when she noticed there was one bus headed to New Orleans. On a whim, she purchased a one-way ticket to the Big Easy.
Once on the bus with only a smattering of passengers—ones she didn’t recognize thank Heavens—Carolyn took a deep breath as they rumbled down Highway 7. With tired eyes, she watched the city she’d grown to hate and now feared fade into the distance. Good riddance to royal rubbish! The Queen City was slowly dying anyway as poverty crept in from the shadows like ghoulish monsters, gobbling up unsuspecting victims.
The rain had stopped, yet the fog clung tight to the evening. Once the final puff of rolling steam from the last manufacturing plant disappeared, she let out a long sigh. The lull of the engine and the surrounding darkness tried to lure her mind into sleep, but Carolyn fought to remain awake, fearful he might be around any corner, any crevice, waiting to pounce like a pole cat, just as he’d done to Miss Maud.
Fidgeting in the seat, Carolyn grimaced. She needed something to do, to concentrate on, rather than worry about what was behind the nightmare on Clifton Street. Unlatching the suitcase, she extracted the cash from the bra and counted. She nearly squealed with delight—almost fifteen-hundred dollars! After cramming the wad inside her wallet, she decided to see what was inside the small clutch, hoping additional cash was hidden inside or maybe some lipstick or powder. She pilfered around yet discovered nothing to make her look more presentable tucked away inside.
However, what she did find made the wheels of her tired, stressed-out mind spin even faster.
She gaped with wild-eyed awe at the social security card and Arkansas driver’s license, both in the name of the “wayward” girl living in the Crawford home until she died in a car accident after a night out drinking and carousing at The Pines with several rowdy soldiers.
They were the same age, born only two months apart.
For the first time in weeks, Carolyn let a small smile appear. She could use the documents to create a new identity and there was enough cash to disappear and start over, never returning to the wretched town and all the nasty secrets it held. Maybe the entity Miss Maud believed in finally took pity her because it seemed a miracle just happened: she’d just been granted a chance at a new life. Two pieces of flimsy paper offered her a way to escape and stay alive in case he knew she’d been upstairs and witnessed his despicable deed.
Closing the purse, she said a silent prayer that God would intervene and do the same for Miss Maud.
The oily rumble inside her stomach told her it was too late for the feisty old woman to be saved by anyone, heavenly being or not.
Blood Loss is slated for release on September 4, 2017 in ebook, print and audio. I'm thrilled to announce Rebecca Roberts will once again provide the narration just as she did for Blood Ties, the first book in the series.
The disappearance of Maud Crawford, at the time this book was published, remains unsolved and still stands as one of the most baffling mysteries in Arkansas. To learn more about what a fascinating woman Maud Robinson Crawford was, please visit the following websites:
I regret that up until approached by a former resident of Camden, Arkansas, about this eerie case, I had never heard of Maud Crawford or the controversy surrounding her disappearance the evening of March 2, 1957. After several long conversations with this man and his perceptions on the mystery, I was hooked. I called my mother and told her our original concept for Blood Loss needed to be put on the backburner. We talked for over an hour, each of us drawn to the events in Southern Arkansas sixty years prior.
The finger of blame has been pointed at several people, yet the truth is, no one truly knows what happened that fateful evening. This fictional tale, based on true events, started out with the words “What if?” What if all the speculation and suspicion about the suspects was way off base? What if someone did witness what happened that night yet fled from fear they might be the next victim? What if the person, or persons, responsible for Maud Crawford’s disappearance stemmed from a direction no one ever looked? What if it wasn’t just a small town cover up?
Since the two main characters—retired Detective LiAnn Tuck and former private investigator and LiAnn’s daughter, Karina Summers—moved to Arkansas and took over running an independent living facility housing seniors who were alive in 1957, what better segue into exploring this real mystery?
The fictional conclusions of the final resting place of Maud Crawford are just that—fictional. In no way are they to be considered anything other than a product of our imaginations. My heart aches for the family members of all those involved and the incredible pain at never having the opportunity to experience some sort of closure on what really happened on the night of March 2, 1957. Maud Crawford was an amazing woman and her legacy lives on through all the organizations she helped create in Arkansas, and we both pray the truth will surface one day and justice will be meted out to the person or persons responsible for extinguishing a bright light in a dark world way before her time on this earth was over.
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