Hello. Busy week. Almost no writing. *sigh* I HATE that, but not much I can do.
I'm giving Tasha and Nikky a brief rest. Here's a piece out of another WIP I'm about half-finished with. Enjoy.
This material is first draft. Please do not quote or repost anywhere. Thanks.
I don't think this piece requires explanation. It's the very first scene in the book.
[Edited to clarify some confusion.]
Carlie Zimmer looked out the window at the snow-covered ground. It was one of those days that even looked cold, like frost clung to every molecule, lending a clean, cutting edge to the air. If you didn’t look at the dirty snow at the road’s edge.
She turned to face the empty room behind her. The first full day alone since her mother’s death. Carlie hadn’t thought she’d miss that whining voice. She pulled her sweater closer around her shoulders.
The phone rang. She hesitated, then picked up the receiver. “Hello?” She winced reflexively at the hoarse rasp of her ruined voice.
“Hey, Carlie. I heard about your mother,” Brian said. “There anything I can do?”
Carlie sighed. “Thanks for calling, Brian. I really don’t need anything.”
“It sucks that you have to face this on Christmas,” Brian said. Pause. “Hey, the wife and I were talking it over, and we want to invite you to have Christmas dinner with us—uh, with all that’s going on….”
Carlie’s mouth twisted as she finished the sentence in her head, ‘since we know you’ll be totally alone and we feel sorry for you.’
She didn’t allow her feelings to color her reply. “Thanks, Brian, I appreciate the thought, but I’m afraid I wouldn’t make good company right now. I think I’ll just stay at home. I have plenty of food, so I won’t starve.”
Relief was almost palpable in Brian’s voice. “Well, if you change your mind, give us a call. I take it you won’t be back to work until after New Year’s.”
With a few more awkward words of condolence, Brian hung up.
Carlie stared at the phone, hoping no more co-workers would call and pretend they cared. Most of them barely knew her, and none of them had known her mother.
The phone rang again. With a sound of annoyance, Carlie picked up the receiver.
“Just like the old bitch to kick off on Christmas, eh, Carlie?”
Carlie’s blood chilled to subzero and her breath left in a great rush.
“Not expecting to hear from me? On Christmas Eve, and your mother dead and all? Now, I am disappointed.”
Carlie found her voice, relieved that it sounded steady. “Jason, how did you get this number?”
“I love the new sound of your voice,” Jason said in a mocking confidential voice. "I think it was my best work. Don't you agree, wife?"
Carlie gritted her teeth, her fingers going to the scar circling her throat. “I’m not your wife anymore, Jason. Don’t call me.”
She dropped the receiver into its cradle. In a few seconds, the phone rang. Carlie ignored it. The answering machine kicked in.
“You don’t hang up on me!” Jason snarled. “Ever! You’ll pay for that.”
Carlie heard him slam the receiver down, and the droning dial tone until the answering machine shut off. She pressed a shaking hand to her mouth. He’d found her. He'd found her city, her phone number. But Jason Mulholland had always been resourceful.
Her eye fell on the newspaper still folded where she had left it when she’d retrieved it from the front porch step. A thought occurred to her and she snatched it up, turning to the obituary page. And swore when she saw the notification of her mother’s death on the page. Some well-meaning soul at the funeral home had notified the papers after she had specifically told them that she would not need an obit notice.
Panic hit her and she was in motion before she could put two thoughts together. He had her phone number. How much of a jump was it to assume that he had her address as well? Jason loved mind games. He was entirely capable of calling her from just outside the house. She wasn’t waiting around to find out.
Carlie pulled her overnight bag out of the closet and threw in some jeans and shirts. She grabbed the phone on her trip to the bathroom for toiletries and dialed the police. She had them on speed dial. Just in case.
A bored voice answered her call.
“Yes, this is Carlie Zimmer,” she said, her voice sounding like rocks over metal. “My husband is trying to kill me.”
“1544 Market Street. Please hurry.” She hit the disconnect button on the querying voice and put the phone in her left sweater pocket. No use in answering questions. She’d never been able to answer the why, anyway. Jason defied analysis. The police would check out her call. Eventually. She checked to make sure her car keys were in her right sweater pocket and picked up her pace.
Shampoo next to hair brush. Toothbrush next to toothpaste.
The sound of glass shattering somewhere in the house made her heart jump into her throat. Fingers trembling, Carlie zipped up the bag and threw the strap over her shoulder. She eased open her bedroom door. Silence. Front or back? She didn’t know.
Making the decision, Carlie sped down the hall to the front door. A quick glance through the peephole didn’t reveal anyone. Moving quickly and quietly, Carlie opened the door and stepped out onto the front porch. The cold air cut through her and she realized she didn’t have her coat.
Carlie could see the back of her car sitting on the driveway. It appeared to be intact. She reached inside her sweater pocket and triggered the remote, unlocking the car doors. The sound of the locks seemed incredibly loud. She made a break for it.
Carlie was more than halfway across the open area between the house and the garage when something hit her with stunning force, sending her sprawling in the snow.
Instinct caused her to roll and draw up her feet. Jason’s midsection connected and she kicked out with all that was in her. Jason fell back and hit the side of her car, the air leaving his lungs with a grunting sound. Carlie surged to her feet, the weight of her bag letting her know it was still with her. She swung the bag and hit Jason along the right jawline. He went down.
Carlie frantically fumbled for the car’s door handle and fell inside, slamming the door and hitting the locks. Breathing like she’d just run a marathon, she reached inside her sweater pocket. And felt nothing.
“Oh, God, oh, God.” Her hands tore at the pocket. No use. The car keys were no longer there. She turned to look out the window. The keys would be somewhere in the snow. She might never find them until spring. If she lived that long.
Her gaze went to where Jason had gone down but she didn’t see him. A search around the car didn’t reveal his presence. Where had he gone? Not away, she was sure about that.
Carlie reached into her left sweater pocket and closed around her phone. She pulled it out and flipped it open, pressing the speed dial for 911.
“911. What’s your emergency?”
Carlie stared in horror as Jason appeared at the driver’s side window, carrying a baseball bat and smiling. She lay over in the seat and pulled her sweater over her head as the bat connected with the window. The sound of impact and the shower of glass disoriented her for a moment.
“911. What’s going on?”
Carlie dropped the phone to the floorboard as Jason’s hand reached through the glass to the doorhandle. She had only one chance. As she heard the door latch disengage, Carlie lunged at the door. Under the impetus of her weight, the car door flew open and hit Jason. He gave a yell of pain and fell to his knees, his left arm hanging from the car window.
She scrambled from the car, trying to run, but slipped and fell on the slick driveway.
“Bitch!” Jason howled. “You’re gonna die!”
Carlie looked over her shoulder wildly to see Jason charging her, a knife in his hand. His face was lacerated and bloody, and his left sleeve stained crimson. His eyes were full of murder.
Somehow, Carlie found her feet and ran. A sharp pain seared her lower back. She screamed at the agony but managed to keep her feet. One flying look saw that Jason had slipped and fell in the snow. She ran, blindly, and in a straight line.
Careening off a tree trunk brought her back to awareness. Trees. There were trees in back of the house. Carlie groaned in distress as she realized she had run toward the least populated area of the neighborhood. And yet. Trees, a lot of them, made for good hiding. And good ambush.
The short winter twilight had already fallen, helping her to hide. Carlie slid around the nearest trunk. She could hear the snow crunching under Jason’s boots. He tunelessly whistled. The sound sent shivers up and down her spine. Her lower back ached like it was on fire.
“Might as well come out, Carlie. I’ll find you sooner or later. The longer it takes me, the more it’s going to hurt.”
Carlie moved around the tree, keeping the trunk between her and Jason. She surveyed her surroundings, looking for something, anything to help her. A fallen branch lay about ten steps from her position. Retrieving the branch would expose her to Jason. But what choice did she have, really?
She made the decision and broke cover, running for the branch. She heard Jason, close behind her. Carlie snatched up the branch and turned, already swinging, a cry of defiance erupting from her throat.
And she swung true. The branch caught Jason along the temple. He staggered and went to his knees, the knife falling from his limp hand, a look of surprise on his face. His eyes rolled back in his head and he fell on his side, limp and still. She knew he was badly injured, or dead. It was enough that he could no longer hurt her.
Carlie felt light-headed and weak. She sat down in the snow beside Jason. His bloody face drifted in and out of her sight, distorted like funhouse mirrors. With a sigh, she lay down in the snow. Intellectually, she knew that she was in shock, but she couldn’t seem to muster enough strength to move. She knew it was possible she would die, right here beside her murdering ex-husband. If the loss of blood from the wound in her lower back didn’t kill her, the cold would.
She closed her eyes. The sound of distant sirens made her stir uneasily, but she slid into darkness.
Weak, Jason said. You were always weak. You never had what it takes to survive.
The sneer in his voice brought an ember of anger to a small flame.
Give up now, Jason said. Just give up and die.
“Leave me alone,” Carlie muttered.
Sure, I’ll leave you alone, he said. Continue dying all by yourself. Failure was the only thing you were ever good at.
The small flame of anger became a raging inferno. She was not going to just give up and die. Especially not on Christmas Eve. That wasn’t going to happen.
She searched the darkness, looking for something to hold onto, something to anchor her consciousness.
Help me! Please, somebody help me!
The anguish, the terror, the pain in those words drew her like a moth to a flame. A flare of pain so bright it was nearly visible to Carlie. She reached out to that pain and a maelstrom of memory and emotion swept her up like flotsam in some rain-swollen stream. Confused with images and feelings not her own, Carlie tried to hold onto something solid. She sensed a presence somewhere in that stream, struggling to hold on, growing weaker.
Carlie tried to reach out and grab at the presence. More memories and emotions buffeted her. For a moment, Carlie and the presence became one being, then that sense of the other leaked away, like water between her fingers. She lunged, trying to pursue that sense of a departing presence--and opened her eyes.
“Are you still trying to hang on? Remarkable,” a male voice said.
Carlie felt fingers on her throat, squeezing, tightening….
Savagely, she lashed out and the fingers abruptly left her throat. A flashing impression of a stranger’s face, distended with pain and horror, illuminated by some blue-tinged light, then she slipped into darkness again.
Carlie’s consciousness swam to the surface and she hovered in the twilight land between sleeping and awareness. In grim determination, she held onto what awareness she had. Dimly, she knew that she lay on a stone floor and a fire burned in a nearby fireplace. She felt weak and far away, and conscious of a deep cold throughout her body. In the range of her vision, a dead man lay, eyes fixed and staring at her. Her breath strangled in an attempt to shout for help, and her hands scrabbled weakly at the floor for purchase. She saw a wreath of greenery with a red bow hanging over the mantel, and she kept her gaze fixed on it rather than the dead man, and struggled to live.
Carlie saw a woman kneeling over her, horror in her face. The woman was of middle age, dressed in a thick, gray dress, and wearing a white fur cap on her pepper and salt hair.
“My lady, you promised!” she whispered. Her brown eyes stared at Carlie with betrayal in them, and even a kind of resignation.
Carlie tried to speak but could make no sound.