Writing is near to breathing for me. As far back as I can remember I've written songs, poetry, short stories, contemporary and Christian fiction novels. Several of my poems were published in the Boone County Journal, as well as one in The Republic of Palau's (also referred to as Belau) national newspaper Tia Belau, and a poem in GRIT magazine. An earlier version of my short story for children, LITTLE SNOW SPARKLE was published in the Boone County Journal. I have a Thriller series (Hilldale Series) in the works. The first book titled DAN, Book One in the Hilldale Series has been released and doing well. DAN can be found on Amazon, BAM, GOODREADS, and BARNES & NOBLE web sites. HOME TO HILLDALE, book two of the Hilldale, Missouri series, will hopefully be out late January 2017. Below please enjoy the opening pages of DAN and the prologue of HOME TO HILLDALE.
Lying in the weeds and shadows of the woods, she closed her eyes and tried to slow her breathing. She knew Pa or Arden–maybe both of them–would come for her, and when they found her this time, it’d be over for good. Weariness pulled at her, sapping her will. Back at Pa’s place, she’d lost count of the torturous days, the nightmare nights of chains and gut-wrenching fear. It’d always been bad, but since she’d come back from Independence, it’d gotten worse. Much worse. “Now I’m lost.” She wanted to cry; she needed to think. Why hadn’t Muley Burger helped her? Why had he looked like he’d seen a ghost, then run off? “I must look pure-dee awful,” she whispered to herself as she touched her face, grimacing in pain. Pa had worked her over pretty good before he left and that wouldn’t make Arden very happy. It seemed like the two of them played tug-o-war with her, not caring that she was the one who always got hurt. Land sakes, but she was tired to the bone. Tired of the fear, tired of the pain, tired of the lies. She couldn’t take it anymore. When Pa found out she’d escaped–but, she mustn’t think of that now. Besides, he didn’t scare her nearly as bad as Arden did, and he’d be coming for her, she knew that as well as she knew her own name. She’d rest here in the bushes a spell. Surely he wouldn’t find her here. But she knew better than that. Arden always got what he went after. Welcoming the darkness even if it did disorient her, and lying quiet, she allowed her mind to drift–just for a moment–to experience something other than that overwhelming fear. Out here in the woods, the night smelled good. She lifted her face allowing the air to settle around her bruised and bleeding cheeks: Cool, damp, pungent, woodsy-smelling air. “There’s the moon,” she warned herself. “He’ll be coming. Got to get up. Got to get moving.” Her body refused to obey her mind. From a nearby pond, peeper frogs sang out to each other while the bull frogs added their bass notes. Crickets chirruped and whippoorwills gave their haunting voices in harmony to the night concert. Focusing on the sounds around her, she listened through the deepening shadows as darkness settled in. She wished she could sleep here for the rest of her life.
HOME TO HILLDALE Prologue
Stirring her oatmeal, she watched as weatherman Al Roker interacted with the jubilant crowd. Her morning ritual—the TODAY show. A smile skittered across her lean face and set a constellation of freckles into brief movement. She loved this part of the show: the laughter, the joking, the happy faces, people waving signs declaring birthdays, anniversaries, holidays. Families who vacationed together. Longing stabbed through her. Scraping the oatmeal into a chipped bowl, she filled the hot sauce pan with water, leaving it in the sink to wash up after school. Her hip against the counter, she reached for her cereal and blew on the first spoonful of the bland gluey mess. Watching the antics and happy faces, she wished she could crawl through the small television screen and pick a laughing person with a kind face. She imagined herself wrapped in their joyful hug, imagined being welcomed into their happy family. Then she saw him. The bowl dropped from her hand, hit the worn linoleum, and shattered, splattering its contents and tiny shards of glass at her feet. She never noticed. The flickering screen held her captive. Her heart twisted. Her stomach threatened to spew its meager contents. She cried out, quickly slapping her hand over her mouth--theneighbors might hear! He pointed at her. The camera panned past him across the eager crowd, then back, and there! There he stood. Silent, a smile on his face that oozed evil, his eyes stared right at her, as though he could see her through the television. For a brief instant, he inserted himself in front of the people around him, pointed his finger, cocked his thumb, and made a shooting motion. His smile widened. The camera slid past him, back to the happy faces, the waving signs. As it panned back across the crowd, she searched the screen. Gone. But, she knew where he was going. He was on his way here, on his way to kill her. Her breath burned in her chest as panic tried to seal her lungs, making her lightheaded. Heart pounding, pushing her blood and adrenaline into flight mode, the rushing blood made helicopter sounds that thumped in her ears. She grabbed her backpack as she dashed from the tiny kitchen into the bedroom. Racing through the apartment, she dumped schoolbooks, notebooks, pencils, pens, a baggie housing her peanut butter and jelly sandwich out on the worn living room carpeting. For just a moment, regret slowed her down. A month until graduation. Fear pushed her regret aside and she continued down the hallway. In her bedroom, she stuffed her few belongings into the cheap canvas backpack, then ran to her mother's bedroom where she went to the lone chest of drawers. Pain squeezed her heart. Her panicked mind made it difficult to think. She reached beneath the scrambled assortment of undergarments in the top drawer and found the cigar box tied with a battered turquoise ribbon. Into the backpack it went, nesting down into the few items of clothing she owned. Blood pulsed in her head, nearly blinding her, but she hurried back down the hallway where she scooped the fallen sandwich from the floor. In the bag it went without breaking her dash back to the kitchen. She stepped over the glass-spiked glob of oatmeal, reached to the top of the corner cabinet and lifted down the chipped sugar bowl with the sunflower lid. Pulling out her meager stash of money, she pushed the folded bills deep into her jeans' pocket. At the refrigerator, she crammed the nearly full peanut butter jar, the half-loaf of white bread, an almost empty jar of grape jelly, and a jar of sweet pickles on top of the clothing. Placing a butter knife, spoon, fork, and the last plastic trash bag into the backpack, she forced the zipper closed and raced out of the apartment, never looking back. New York. Two days, maybe three—no, two. He’d travel fast. He was coming. He’d find her and then—blanking out her thoughts, she ran down the three flights of stairs and out onto the sidewalk where no one noticed her fear. She stopped. Which way? Where could she go? Her chin jutted forward. Her decision made, she turned and headed south, moving at an even, purposeful pace. Somewhere south she knew there was a place her mother called home.
*If you are interested in commenting or using any part of this story, please contact the author for permission at firstname.lastname@example.org. All rights are owned by Pat M. Jaeger.