Approximately 53,000 words
Sample Chapter One
5930 Foothill Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90068
Laura Drummond sat on a bleacher in the gym. She’d debated long and hard about going to the dance at all. The dress her mother forced her to wear made her look like the biggest prude. The fact was, she was the biggest prude. She hadn’t become boy crazy. She didn’t think she would.
Laura glanced across the room where her best friend… her former best friend, Marla Facinelli huddled with Mark Rudner. Marla touched Mark’s arm and leaned in for a kiss.
Gag me, Laura thought.
Boys…. Ugh. That’s what had ended their friendship. A friendship that went back to first grade when Rebecca and Laura met in summer camp. They were the two best athletes in camp and they made a formidable team. They won the wheelbarrow challenge, the three-legged race, and the canoe race.
Marla flicked her long blonde hair back and Mark guided her to the gym’s makeshift dance floor. A slow song, Lady in Red, was playing and Mark was lip-synching along with Chris de Burgh.
I hope their braces get locked together… forever, Laura thought.
It’s not like she couldn’t dance if she wanted. Hadn’t David Shackelford asked her to dance? So did Alan Stewart, and Evan O’Meara. She wondered why she had fought so hard to come - begging, pleading, promising the world to her parents if they would just let her go to the freshman dance. The first dance of her high school journey, and the last before winter took hold for real.
And in the end, they had relented. Of course, they had, but not before putting certain restrictions into play.
“We decide what you can wear,” her mother said. “And you’ll need to be home by 9 p.m.”
“But mom –” Laura protested.
“No ‘buts,’ young lady,” her dad chimed in. “Not unless you want yours paddled.”
If there was a rebellious teen in Laura, she was hidden deep. She managed a quiet: “No, sir.”
“Good. And no slow dancing,” Dad added.
“Daaaad! What’s the point of going?” Laura asked.
“Don’t go, then.”
His eyes narrowed. Laura knew that look. Her father was a big man. He’d played football in college. At six-two and two-forty, he was an imposing figure and quick to anger. Her mother wouldn’t risk an intervention if he reached for his belt. Yes, Laura knew that look all too well.
In the end, Laura had agreed. Letting her go in the first place was a victory she hadn’t expected. She was sure that they would make her go to confession on Sunday, and probably again at Wednesday service. It didn’t matter. She was going, even if for just an hour or two, and she practically skipped the six blocks from her house to the school.
As she walked, she thought about Marla. She envisioned Marla pushing Mark aside and rushing to her arms, giggling and crying as she apologized to Laura. Laura cut across the small park.
But it wasn’t her zealot parents‘ restrictions that kept her off the dance floor. It wasn’t the thought of confessing to Father McIntyre the egregious sin of slow dancing with a boy that was stopping her either. There was just something inside of her.
A fourteen-year-old classmate waved to Laura. Ally was short and rotund, although her classmates mostly called her fat. The nicer ones only said that behind her back. Ally’s mini-skirt was short enough to show her ample thighs and the tops of her biking shorts. Ally had moved from Texas to Ohio three years ago, and she thought of Laura as her BFF. Laura liked Ally just fine. When Ally first arrived in Columbus and attended Brookdale Middle School she was teased and bullied.
One afternoon, as school was just letting out, Laura saw three twelve-year-old girls and two boys surrounding Ally. They were pulling at her clothes and poking at her. Laura, like most everyone else, started to pass on by. Then she saw the look in Ally’s eyes. The pain that she was feeling, and when those eyes looked beseechingly to Laura, she knew she couldn’t just walk away.
Laura was a good half a head taller than the girls. She knew them all: Peggy Rice, Maureen Offerman, and Lisa Harris. The boys were Phil Marks and his constant companion George Conner. George was squealing like a pig.
“Come on, little piggy. Oink for us,” George teased.
“Leave her alone,” Laura said as she stepped into the circle.
“What’s it to you?” Peggy Rice said.
“I said leave her alone.” Laura pushed Peggy, who stumbled back but didn’t fall.
In her peripheral vision, Laura saw Phil pull back his arm. She moved into him. The swing was wide and wild. Laura easily blocked the punch and brought her knee into Phil’s groin.
Phil dropped instantly.
“Why’d you do that?” Phil moaned through gritted teeth.
Laura put an arm around Ally and led her away. The others parted for her without resistance.
“You okay?” Laura asked.
“You wanna tell somebody? I’ll go with you if –” Laura said, but Ally cut her off.
“Nah, I’m used to it. I don’t want to get nobody in trouble.” Ally wiped the tears and snot on the sleeve of her sweater.
Laura looked at the wet spot on her arm and wondered if it would dry like that or if she’d wash it when she got home.
From that day forward, Ally was like a devoted puppy. She followed Laura around until Laura signaled that she needed some ‘alone time.’ One thing you could say about Ally was that she knew how to read a room.
Laura got up from the bleachers and met Ally halfway to the dance floor.
“Laura!” Ally shrieked. “I know I’m late. Did I miss anything?”
“Mark and Marla making out… that’s about it,” Laura said. She glanced up at the clock at one end of the gym’s basketball court. It was at 3:02.
Highly unlikely, Laura thought.
She then looked at the clock at the other end of the court. That one read 8:48. That was more like it.
“I’ve got to leave now anyhow,” she said.
“But you can’t! I just got here.” Ally pouted.
“My parents only let me come because I promised to be home by nine. If I don’t show up on time, they’ll kill me or worse, send me to a convent.”
“Really? They really would?” Ally asked, wide-eyed.
“Not gonna chance it,” Laura said.
Laura turned to wave goodbye to Ally as she made her way to the exit, but Ally had vanished onto the dance floor, absorbed into the hive.
The air was crisp, and the sound of the canned music wafted from the gymnasium behind Laura. She’d never been with so many people and still felt so alone in her life. She glanced back at the entrance. She saw Peggy’s mom, acting as a chaperone, smoking just to the west of the gym’s double doors.
Chaperone, but not a role model, Laura thought.
She suddenly realized that she might be late, and that would not go well for her. Her father had taken a belt to her for less. Laura gathered her gray overcoat around her and headed for the path through the park. The night was cloudy and colder than an average fall evening. She glanced up to the sky, silently praying that it not rain. If she ruined her coat, both her parents would whip her.
Laura walked across the wide street in front of her school. Franklin High. Home of the
proud Stallions. The sounds of the dance faded into the distance as she stepped onto the sidewalk. She could imagine her parents waiting for her. Her mother sitting next to her dad as he chugged a beer. The small screen T.V. - old, with tin foil on the bent rabbit ears tuned to the latest episode of Dallas. Her mom would have her Bible open on her lap, turning to read during the commercial breaks.
For a moment, Laura considered going back to the dance. Maybe there was a rebellious teenager somewhere inside her. But then she remembered the Bible and the belt and thought better of it.
Her shoes slapped the pavement, drowning out the music and the laughter. The sounds were now nothing more than ghost voices floating across the night. Step SLAP… step SLAP… step SLAP.
Laura looked down at her dress. Her high neck, long sleeve, mid-calf length dress. God, she hated that dress so much. She closed the coat and stumbled.
Step SLAP… SLAP! Had she tripped on something? Shoelaces. The shoelace on her old, black Converse tennis shoes on her right foot. She’d all but grown out of then, but money was tight and she had to make do, so…
She stopped and bent down to tie her disobedient tennis shoe when – step SLAP. Not hers.
“Hello?” she called to the darkness. No movement. No sound. Probably her imagination. She didn’t have a particularly vivid imagination. But she decided it was her mind playing tricks. It wasn’t real. There was no sound of someone walking behind her. Following her. Stalking her. It was just her imagination.
Laura peered into the night. Nothing… then rustling. Leaves rustling just off the path… and in the Virginia Pines that lined the path near the entrance to the park.
Laura rose to her feet. An uneasy feeling clutched at her stomach. She thought of an old song ‘Just my imagination, once again, running away with me… Just my imagination… running away.’
She had forgotten all about her shoelace as she picked up her pace. Just four more blocks and she’ll be home, and she’ll sit down on the couch next to her mom, watch Dallas, and tell both her parents that they were right. She shouldn’t have gone to the stupid dance.
The streets and houses around the park were dark. The houses, unkempt, run-down. She thought she heard footsteps again, behind her. Gaining on her. She started to pant, straining to hear over her ragged breath.
She looked around again... not slowing down, not stopping –
No one there. Laura took a deep breath, chuckled at her paranoia. And of course, her stupid shoelace was still untied.
Laura bent down once again.
WHAM! Laura felt herself flying through the air. She had time to wonder what hit her. She felt the air forced from her lungs and a loud POP as her shoulder hit the hard ground, dislocating from its joint. She was aware of the pain, but only for a moment, as her head hit the ground hard and supplanted thoughts of her shoulder.
Laura bit her tongue as her head snapped back, rebounding off the ground. She tenuously held to consciousness. She was aware of the blood in her mouth. She tried to catch her breath. She struggled for air.
A shadow of a figure stood over her. In her semi-conscious state, she saw him reaching for his belt. For one moment, she thought of her father. Pulling his belt from his trousers, readying a beating for some infraction of the rules.
She wondered what she did, and she must have done something.
But... not slow dancing, she thought.
She felt hands moving on her thighs, pulling her panties down, and her paralysis broke. She sucked in a breath.
“No!” she screamed.
But her cries were cut off as a calloused hand clamped over her mouth.
She could smell the bourbon and weed, mixed with body odor as her attacker brought his face to hers. His brown eyes peeked out from under a plain gray hoodie.
A knife, six inches long, appeared in front of her eyes.
“Shh. I don’t want to hurt you, but I will.”
He placed the blade of the hunting knife on her cheek and caught Laura’s tear on the tip. Of course, Laura didn’t know or care what kind of knife it was.
She tried to scream again when he entered her. The pain was sharp and intense. She hit his shoulders and back. But there was no real strength in her blows. The pain was excruciating and she felt warm liquid running from her. She forced the hand from her mouth momentarily.
“You’re hurting me!” Laura cried.
“Shut the fuck up.” He replaced his right hand over her mouth and thrust deeper and harder into her.
Laura thought that he was tearing her in two. In her mind, she begged him to stop, prayed for him to stop…
Suddenly, his pace increased, he groaned and collapsed on top of her. She didn’t understand that he only stopped because he climaxed. She only knew that for a moment he was still.
Pain and fear consumed Laura. She couldn’t budge the weight of her attacker, but she had to do something, to try and escape. She pushed again, and he sat up, his hand still over her mouth. His foul breath huffed down at her.
She saw that he was caucasian, big, over six feet tall, and heavy. He had a ragged beard, She suddenly thought, He’s going to kill me.
She bit down on the hand covering her mouth. She bit as hard as she could.
“Goddamn!” He pulled his hand back, bringing Laura along. “Fuck!”
Her attacker hit her hard and high on the side of her head, just above her ear.
She dropped back to the ground.
“I warned you,” he said.
Laura squirmed, clawing at his face. She saw the knife clutched in his right-hand rise. Then the blade plunged down, rushing toward her.
For a moment, her senses were heightened, she listened to the winds rustling the leaves, the drops of water hitting the ground, the far-off music from the dance, and somewhere a dog barking.
And then another sound… A knife entering flesh. There was no pain at first, only the shock, and the feeling of being hit hard in the chest. The blade retreated.
Laura tried to wriggle away from him, but the blade came down again. The knife hit her between the fourth and fifth rib, breaking the bone cleanly and puncturing her lung.
Laura thought of her parents. Then of God. She thought of all the things she’d never do. Drive a car, see the world, fall in love.
The knife hand arced and plunged again.
“Please…” she said weakly.
She thought about Ally. Would she miss me? Would Marla? Her teachers.
There was no pain anymore. Only the sounds of the rain and the wind, the far-off music, and the sound of her attacker grunting as he pulled the knife from her chest and stabbed her again.
She looked into his eyes and saw anger, insanity, and pure evil. Her last thought as she lost consciousness was –
I don’t want to die.
And as the knife swung at her again she slipped into darkness and knew no more.