Monday, June 12, 2017

Dark Woods: Chapter One ©2017

Chapter One

There is a day, in everyone’s life, where suddenly – everything falls to pieces.  Either through heartache, nothing in your life going the way you wanted or hoped, or something …someone…being taken from you without your control, or you do something horribly wrong.   There are so many variables to life, and it is in that moment of shock and reflection that you realize that 98% of your life is completely out of your control. 
Life isn’t easy. 
What happens to your soul, to your psyche…when your whole life is filled with that kind of low?  What happens when all the people who are supposed to love you, who are supposed to gather around you and hold together the pieces falling apart, just don’t?  What happens if you are neglected, told you aren’t wanted, and treated lower than the lowest?
Does that person then become a monster?
Perhaps they turn into the type of unique person who only see the world differently. 
That’s what she wondered.  That’s what she was an example of.  She just wondered if she was the exception to the rule.
She stood at the large window in her den, pondering, and watching the birds around the bird feeder fighting for seed.  She had found some bad bread in her kitchen that morning when she was making some breakfast.  She had already taken that outside and broke it up, spreading around the bases of the feeders.  She loved feeding the birds and being able to see the wildlife from her windows.  It was the great thing about leaving away from town, and a small Mayberry type town at that.  She had seen a lot of deer, even a couple bear cubs, and lots of racoon from her windows. 
She watched a robin pop out of the birdhouse nailed into the big backyard tree.  That single tree was so big it shaded a good portion of her backyard all by itself.  It had taken two years, but birds were finally using the bird houses she had gotten when she moved in.  The bird feeders they used right away, but the bird houses had taken longer. She imagined that they finally figured out she wasn’t planning on going anywhere. 
At least that’s what she hoped.  Moving was never in her plans.  She never planned on moving around or being a theoretical gypsy, but she would wake up some mornings and just know it was time to leave.  This was the place, though, she had finally decided to make a home.  The place where her roots were going to dig in.  This was home, she was done with moving.
She managed to find a small town that felt welcoming to her.  It was kind of like those older black and white television shows, where everyone knew everyone and everyone’s business was discussed as entertainment over the white picket fences, or at the diner over the meatloaf special, and in every waiting room there was.  This was where she believed she belonged.  Where she wanted to bury those roots after they dug in.   Now the whole family was in the general area.
Though, she was still known as the girl so full of “mystery” around town, which she typically laughed off.  She typically only let anyone in to the surface, but never deep enough to figure out the skeletons she kept shackled in her closet.  The ones that she didn’t want anyone to ever find out.
She was lucky that she had come out of her childhood situation alive.  She couldn’t go as far as to say she had been unharmed, because she had been plenty harmed.  It had taken her years of therapy to work through fears and trust issues.   Nevertheless, she certainly wouldn’t call her issues “cured” or “gone” by any definition. 
            After everything that had happened, she had only completely trusted four people in her life, until she moved here.  Four people!  Well, four people and various therapists, but the therapists she didn’t necessarily trust, she just paraded her skeletons around them.  It was astonishing to her.  She couldn’t imagine her daughter living like that, like she did. 

She sipped her coffee as she watched the robin while the other birds join her.
You ask most children, who understand what trust is, and they will tell you that they trust their parents, their grandparents, siblings, friends, teachers, coaches, family friends, the list goes on.   Not with her.  She trusted the only girl who had befriend her, that she had ever told her secret to.  The girl who had become her sister for the last fifteen years of her life.  The one who had married ten years before, settled in one place and up-rooted her family to be where she had finally decided to settle.  The whole family had become her lifeline.  They had become her everything.  Her Mom, her Dad, and her brother.  They insisted on doing, and did, everything that they had to in order to keep her before the trials started.  They were the ones who got up in the middle of the night, while she screamed out – waking the whole house – from nightmares that plagued her sleep.  They’d hug her, talk softly and soothingly to her, and let her cry until she couldn’t cry anymore.  They gave her allowances in her behavior, warning her more than they would worn Reed and Gabby.  It was Gabby who saved her when she had been contemplating killing herself.  It had been Gabby who had sat there and said that if she insisted on doing it, they’d both do it. 
She couldn’t take on that responsibility, she wasn’t that selfish.  It was in that moment, sitting on that bathroom floor, crying with her best friend, when she realized how selfish that choice would have been.  She couldn’t do it, she didn’t do it.  All it took was for her best friend to stand by her.  They never spoke of it again. 
They made her their family.  They never let her forget.  She knew that they loved her like they did Gabby and Reed.  They supported her through the trials, the therapy, the nightmares, the fear, and the trust issues.  Now she called them her Mom and Dad.  If it hadn’t been for them, for that sliver of trust she had for them to begin with, she wasn’t sure what might have become of her. 
She still had scars and she always would.  That’s the thing about scars, they never went away, no matter how they faded.  But the one thing she couldn’t do anymore was live in fear.   She was done walking around, looking over her shoulder.  She could no longer be the roaming gypsy she had been, even with a daughter in tow.
She had put her biological father and brother away for life, both sentenced to death.  They had been found guilty of nearly eighty deaths, suspected of so many more.  They referred to them as some of the worst serial killers in history.  It was discovered that they had traveled to neighboring cities to get victims.  At least once, they traveled one hundred miles out of town.  There were books written about them, movies made about them, about their story, about her story.   Some of the proceeds had been given to her, but she’s sure it was only a sliver of what had been made. The Johansons’ had put them into a savings account for her, they wouldn’t take a penny of it.  They might share her genetics, but they had never been her family.  
She sat down in the overstuffed chair she had placed next to the window.  Her coffee still hot in her cup, steam still rising from it, billowing in the air until it dissipated.  She sunk back, and relaxed, still watching the birds.   Her black Huskey, Luna, got up from the dog bed and walked over to her, resting her head in her lap and she automatically started stroking Luna’s head.
Then she noticed the squirrels starting to come out.  There were three of them that lived in her yard.  There was one that had a black paw and a black ear, she called him Willy.  The one with the chunk of ear missing, well, she called him Ulysses.  The normal gray one she couldn’t find any distinct markings on, she called Pudding.   She left a bowl of peanuts out for them every morning.  They would sit there and break open the shells to get the treat inside.  She always had fun watching them, even taking pictures of them for her blog.
Things happened in her life, the courts had allowed her to change her name so that she could try to have as normal of a life as possible.  Her life would never be normal though.  She would never be rid of the nightmares and the things she saw and experienced.  Seeing a bloody naked woman in a cage, tied up, was something one could never get over.  She had been alive when the police got there, she survived, but during the trial – after she had testified, she had killed herself.
“Mom,” she heard from behind her.   She turned around and saw her daughter with her fiery red curly hair falling around her face, down to about the middle of her back.  She was blessed with blue eyes that contrasted her own green eyes.  She looked just like her Mom but for the color of her eyes.  She dressed in a long sleeved white shirt and a jumper. 
“What Emma?”
“What if we were living on someone’s face, and the mountains were really pimples.  The mountains would just disappear when people popped them, and it was like our volcanos spewing lava puss all over killing everyone on that part of the face?”
“Emma,” she couldn’t help but to laugh.  “That’s pretty gross.”  She encouraged her daughter to be creative and use her brain.  Sometimes, she really wondered about her daughter’s pre-teen mind and if it was a danger to herself.   She watched her daughter smile and skip out of the room.  “I think you do that to try to get reactions out of me,” she yelled after her. 
She chuckled as she turned back to her window, seeing the squirrels trying to figure out how to climb the pole to the main bird feeder she has just filled up that morning when she had spread the bread around the base.  The squirrels, who had tried it a thousand times already, were not getting anywhere.  They did gobble up whatever seed the birds would push over the edge that fell to the ground, and whatever bread was left.  They also ran back and forth to the bowl of peanuts in the shells she kept outside. 
It was only a few minutes before Emma hopped back into her office.  “Mawm-mee” she said drawing out the word that was the absolute best nickname and the worst she had, all at the same time. 
“What has crawled into your bonnet this morning Emerson?”
“Well,” her daughter hopped across the room and wrapped her arms around her mom’s waist.   “Hannah, Cicaly, Harper and I were wondering if we could have a sleep over.” 
Her daughter was referring to the children of her two best friends, Gullia and Catrina.  When she had moved here, she had joined the elementary school PTA and met Gullia and Catrina who had both come up to her and started carrying on conversations like they had known each other all their lives.  It was a feeling she had only ever had one other time, and that is when she met Gabby. 
The PTA was something she was part of but she wasn’t heavily involved.  It was a dare to herself to get out of her loner comfort zone.  She just sort of blended into the background while her two best friends ran the show.  She wished Gabby had kids her daughter’s age, but she loved all of her nieces and nephews so much.  She loved that Gabby was there now, and that Reed and his family was in Seattle, just a couple hours away, or an hour by boat, and their parents were just south of them by about an hour. 
They were her parents, in every way she had never had until they surrounded her with love and support and didn’t even let her think twice about them not being her parents.  She had never met two people who were more loving than Phillip and Rose, though, these days they were just naturally Mom and Dad. 
They had fought so hard to keep her with them.  Luckily Rose’s sister worked in the Family Welfare department and had pulled some strings back then so that they could take her home that night from the police station.  They had supported her, loved her, stood by her while she battled the demons of her past, and cheered for her for every single accomplishment she made.  She got the opportunity to be adopted by them, and to change her name.
Gabby had given her the nickname of Bella.  It was the first time, other than her biological mother, that anyone had given her a nickname.  It was important to keep Bella as her nickname.  So, becoming Isabella was easy.  Rose had suggested Grace as a middle name after the grandmother she loved dearly.  Of course, she took their last name as her own, and she officially had become Isabella Grace Johanson, Bella for short.  A name she hoped the evil monster whose DNA was used to create her, and the brother she shared DNA with, would never know. 
She didn’t talk about them anymore, not one word.  It was like a silent rule these days.  Just not to think about them, or talk about them, but every now and then, they crept into her thoughts hanging onto memories mostly.  He daughter would never know them, or of them, if she could help it. 
“Sleep over where?”  She asked turning her back to the window for the moment and facing her daughter.  She pretty much knew what was coming.  The girls loved to come over to her house for sleepovers because both Hannah, Harper and Cicaly had other siblings.  At least at her place, it was just the four of them. 
“Here,” she said giving her mother her best pleading look.  “Indy won’t leave us alone and Dakota and Hayden go and burp and fart wherever we are, it’s gross!  Anna is always coming in where we are, plus Matt and Micha are just brats, Mom!”
Indiana was Hannah’s older brother, Dakota and Hayden were her younger brothers, and Annalisa was Hannah’s younger sister.  Harper and Cicaly were Irish twins. Matthew and Micha were their younger brothers.  Indy was in the grade ahead of the four girls.  Bella suspected he liked Emma, but she wasn’t going to say anything to anyone about that.  It was a matter of the way he looked at her sometimes that caused the suspicion.  Dakota and Hayden were seven and five respectively and typical little brothers. Annalisa was only four years old and looked up to Hannah and all the girls.  She was a little girl who wanted to do everything the big girls were doing.  Matthew was seven and Micha was three, those two did everything they could to make their older sisters scream, especially Matthew.  Anytime the girls were all together over there was best time to make all of them scream.  It was actually amusing if you were a witness to it.  Matthew had a very mischievous mind and some of the things he came up with were pretty genius.  Of course, Micha just wanted to be cool like his brother. The stories that were told.  She didn’t envy Catrina and her husband Greggory in the slightest. 
“Have they talked to their parents?”
She looked around innocently, “Not yet,” she muttered.  “I wanted to see if it was okay with you first.”
Good call, she thought.  “When are you thinking?”
“Short notice, there, Emma Rose.”
“I know, I’m sorry,” she said going back to giving her the best pleading look she had.  All the girls were in drama club, all of them had been in some of the community plays.  They all knew how to bring out those acting skills when and if needed.   She stood up and went to her desk, sitting back down in her computer chair.
She was thinking about asking Gabby, Gullia and Catrina over for a wine night.  They could all shoo the three dad’s and little boys for a poker night, she loved hosting poker night, but the girls really wanted to be just the four of them.  It was a thought.   “I will talk to their moms, okay?”
“Really!?!” she squealed. 
“School is getting out soon, we’re headed into summer vacation.  So if this plan doesn’t work out, just remember there will be plenty of other opportunities, okay?”  She told her daughter. 
“But Moooooooooooooommmmmm,” she was a very dramatic child.  “It’s a four-day weekend!”
“I know, I’ll see what I can set up.”
Emma squeezed her mom extra hard in a hug and skipped back off to finish getting ready for school.  Bella just shook her head.  She had no idea where that child got her dramatic flair from, but it certainly wasn’t her. 
She debated on shooting her sister and friends an email, a text message, or a phone call.  Figured it would be easiest to pop on Facebook and shoot them all a message at the same time in their group message they kept going.  It was someplace where they only had to say something once instead of having to repeat it ten times, plus share photos and gossip. 
She walked around to her desk chair and sat down.  Putting the coffee cup on the quilted little coaster, she quickly worked past her computer security measures and got onto Facebook.  She shot them all off a message in one shot.

Interested in a movie and wine night tonight?  Emma wants to have the girls over for a sleepover.  Dads could play poker and have their own guys night with the other kids.  Would be such a full house though – where ever it would happen.  Girls could stick around until the campout on Sunday, it’s fine by me. 

While she was sitting at her computer, she glanced at her email.  Her editor was bothering her for her newest finished book.  Problem was, it wasn’t finished yet.  She needed to get it done, but she was having a hard time feeling it.  She shot her off a reply explaining she was having a little bit of a block.  She didn’t understand what the rush was, they already had a book that hadn’t been released yet.  She always liked to have that “buffer” book though.  It was her own fault.  The first few years she wrote, she was getting two or three books done in one year, now that she was twenty books into the series – it was a little bit rougher to find the brilliance that seemed to flow out of her fingers so easily before.
There was an email from an address that she didn’t recognize marked “Urgent.”  She was about to click on it when she heard the chime from Facebook meaning that someone had replied to the message.  She switched tabs of her browser and saw that Gabby had replied. 

I’m in!  I will have to bring the baby because I cannot even think about leaving him for a few hours.  Plus, I figure you all will love taking him from me every moment you can. 

She smiled.  She couldn’t wait to hold her nephew and smell him.  She longed to have another baby, someday.  She just held him two days prior, but twenty-four hours was way too long.  Sadly, she’d never have another baby.  Just the hand that life had dealt her.  Didn’t mean she couldn’t spoil all her nieces and nephews.
Emma had been such an amazing gift to her.  It happened her freshman year of college.  Her and Gabby were lucky enough to share a dorm room.  They had been taking different paths, but still were the best of friends.  Just then, they needed to spread their wings more independently.  Gabby was really interested in the Greek aspect, and pledged a sorority.  Bella still had issues, hard core issues, about large groups of people and trusting anyone. 
There was this guy named David in her creative writing class.  He was charming and handsome.  He would look at her during class and smile at her, but she would always shy away, figuring that he wasn’t looking at her but past her at someone else.  Until he confronted her after class one day.  She heard him saying “Hey” from behind her but it wasn’t until he caught up to her and tapped her shoulder.  She had spun around and seen that it was David, and he had in fact been talking to her. 
He started talking to her, and at first, she was almost feeling panicky.  He asked her if she wanted to catch a movie with him, or dinner, sometime.  She said sure, because she wasn’t sure what else to say.  She had never had a boyfriend before, never even going out on a date.  Gabby had a boyfriend in high school and there was a lot of group outings and activities as their core group of friends. 
Regardless she met up with David and he took her out to a nice sit-down restaurant.  She had barely eaten, did the classic order a salad crap because she wasn’t comfortable eating in front of this guy.  As the night moved forward he was making her laugh and she was becoming comfortable around him.  He made her forget about her fears and anxiety and all those demons in her closet.  She felt pretty and smart and like she was valuable.  She fell in love with him, or at least, what she thought was love, first love kind of love. 
Then small things started to happen, and she’d dismiss them or try to talk her inner voice out of the panic that sat on the edge of her soul jumping at saying what was going on was wrong.   Her inner voice was screaming and she brushed it off as being silly.  He’d make rude comments and he’d see the look of confusion, or that it upset her, and he’d laugh about it and claim he was joking. 
Then he started to show up at the restaurant that she was waitressing at for spending money.  He’d show up when she wasn’t working and he’d demand answers for the people she worked with on if anyone was interested in her, if anyone was flirting with her, including customers.  Then he’d start sitting at the bar and drink while she was working, and he’d give her this angry stare the whole time she went from table to table to take care of her customers.  Waitressing was a huge step for her out of her comfort zone, it was a big deal to her.  Luckily her boss wasn’t mad, more so concerned about her safety, but that didn’t mean she wouldn’t get in trouble.    
The first time he punched her in the face was after work one night.  She had closed, and she was so angry because he had made a scene and almost gotten her fired.  She had come out of the back door and he had started in on her right away.  She had swung around on him and yelled at him about how he almost got her fired.   It was the first time she had actually ever stood up for herself.  She was rewarded with a black eye.  One of her co-workers and friends came out as his fist met her face and she fell to the ground.  He ran off, like a thief in the night, and when her co-workers had asked if she had known who had done it, she lied, and said no. 
He had punched her one other time.  It was about a month after the first time, they had been dating about six months at the time.  They were sitting at her dorm room having pizza and watching a movie. Gabby was doing stuff with her sorority and she was staying at the sorority house.  She had done something, and spilled a glass of Coke on him.  He just punched her in the head a second time.  She demanded he leave between her crying hysterically and him apologizing profusely. 
The last straw happened when she was avoiding him, because she was truly fearing being around him.  All those feelings of living with her biological family was flooding back and she couldn’t go back there.  He got mad about being ignored.  She was trying to figure things out in her head and asked him for space.  One night, after a party she had been invited to on Greek row by Gabby, he found her starting to walk back to the dorm and started to accuse her of sleeping with another guy and various other horrible things.  She started to go back to the sorority house out of fear.  In that moment, she decided, it was clear they couldn’t be together.  It was such an unhealthy relationship and she was beating herself up internally while she was breaking up with him outwardly.   She didn’t see it coming.  She just remembered screaming at him it was over, and next thing she knew she was waking up in the emergency room with an IV bag, bruised and swollen face, Gabby was crying.  She couldn’t open one eye and two ribs were broken. 
The doctor came in with the police.  She gave them all the details.  After the police left, the doctor came back in and started going over test results.  Then he said five words that forever changed her life.  “Did you know you’re pregnant?”
She was three months along already and had no clue.   She’d been pregnant for almost half of the relationship with David and hadn’t known. 
She didn’t tell him. She pressed charges and got a 90-day restraining order.  They went to the same college though and unless someone was going to change colleges, it was hard to truly avoid each other.   When she started showing, really showing, there was one day where she was walking to her next class and out of the corner of her eye she saw someone walk into a pole.  She turned to look and it was David, and he was still staring at her and her large pregnant belly.  
            He had asked a mutual friend to give her a message after the restraining order was up.  He asked if she would meet with him with Gabby in a public place.  He didn’t want her to feel uncomfortable and he promised he wouldn’t hurt her.  She agreed and told him to meet her at a coffee shop that evening. 
            When she had gotten there, he was already waiting.  She got in line first and got herself a hot tea before she went and sat with him.  She hadn’t even told Gabby she was going to meet him.  They exchanged some small talk and then he decided to address the elephant in the room, because that’s what she felt like, an elephant.  She didn’t lie to him, she was honest about being pregnant with his child.  Other than what had happened to her before her escape, she hadn’t ever been with anyone that way but David. 
            He said he was very remorseful for what had happened. He’d gone to anger management and had even started to volunteer at a woman’s shelter where abused women and kids came in all the time.  He didn’t expect to mend things with Bella but he hoped they could be tolerable towards each other.  He had told her he wouldn’t make excuses about how growing up in a family where his father abused his mother had damaged him, because what he had done was beyond wrong, but he did want to say he was truly sorry.  It did feel like he was being sincere. 
            She had given him her cell number and he stuck to his word.  He didn’t push anything with her and they were forming a bit of a friendship.  He wanted to be involved in the baby’s life, but he didn’t want to push anything either.  So, she agreed to play it, basically, by ear. 
            She moved into an apartment with Gabby after college ended for the year.  They were pretty much right on campus still and very close to Greek row since Gabby would be highly involved with all of that.  Bella had joined the staff of the college newspaper and the photography club.  They had gotten a three-bedroom place so that the baby could have her own room.  She knew Gabby probably wouldn’t be there a whole lot but it would be nice when she was. 
            She went into labor on July 3rd that year.  She had called him to tell him when she found out she would be having the baby, for sure.  While she labored, he rushed to the hospital.   On the way there he ran a red light at a high rate of speed and he ended up hitting a semi-truck.  His car ended up getting wedged under the truck’s cargo area. The top half of the car was completely ripped off.  David’s head was ripped off with it, as his body remained seat belted into the car.
            She found out that his car had hydroplaned through the red light on the very wet blacktop.  It had been raining hard that day, sometimes causing visibility to be less than a hundred feet.  It didn’t help matters that he was talking on his cell phone, which had been found still clutched in his hand.  She had gotten so mad when he had told her he was coming and he didn’t show up.  So mad!
She didn’t find out until the following day that he had died.  She kept trying to call him, and kept getting his voicemail.  She left one message.   The last time she called, a detective had picked up the phone.  He informed her that he had been in an accident.  The detective had come to talk to her.  She once had strong feelings for him.  The fact that – she thought – he was so excited about the baby, and rushing to the hospital, and died on the way there, made her heart sink. 
He died before his daughter was born in the very early hours of the 4th.  His family had come and they had no idea that she was upstairs holding their granddaughter and niece. 
            She had attended his funeral a couple days after she went home with the baby.  She didn’t know his family, had never been introduced, but she had gone and hung back.  There were a lot of people there that she knew, from the college, and so she tried to blend in.  She didn’t go tell his family.  From what she understood, based on what he had told her while they dated and after when he was explaining to her why he reacted the way he had, she didn’t feel like she wanted them involved in her daughter’s life. 
            “Mom!” Emma slid through the door in the fast pace she moved at.  “I’m headed out for the bus,” she said crossing the room in only a few steps.  She hugged and kissed her mom and rushed back out as quickly as she had come in. 
            She was like a whirlwind, that one.
            She wanted to think that David was watching over Emma, wherever he was.  She found comfort in that.  Her daughter’s own personal guardian angel.  She had told Emma about him.  She left all the bad stuff out, just saying they decided they’d be better friends.  Luckily, she did have some photos of David, so Emma could see what her Dad looked like. 
            After she was done with college she moved around the United States some.  She’d be here a few months, there a year.  Once Emma had started school, she had to stay in one place for the school year, at least.  Then it got to the point where it was really weighing on Emma, all the moving around.  Her own gypsy heart needed to settle down and plant some roots.   So one summer she had gone to visit Reed and his wife in Seattle.  Emma had just turned 7 years old.  She would be starting Second Grade in the fall.  Reed and Natalie had three kids at the time.  Jacob was 8, Sawyer was almost 5, and little Katie Marie was born six days after Emma’s birthday.  They were there to cuddle the baby and for family. 
            One day, Reed suggested they take a drive, enjoy the peninsula and the Olympic Mountains.  So she and Emma got in the car and did just that.  They took the ferry over from Seattle to Bremerton and drove around from there. 
            They had stopped in the small town of Sable Thicket to eat.  The diner they stopped at, Lizzy’s Diner, was really good food. The staff had been so friendly, they commented on and interacted with Emma like they had known her since she was born.  The waitress, Candice, had even given Emma a small stuffed unicorn, and Emma had carried that thing around with her for a couple years. 
            After they ate, they had gone across the street to the park and hung out there for a little while.  She watched Emma play with the other kids at the park that day, and she just had this feeling that this is where she belongs.  This is where she needed to plant those roots with Emma. 
            She ended up buying her house, going back down to California and packing up their stuff, she hoped, for the last time.  The whole process was quick.  Before she knew it, she had planted roots.
            Her sister Gabby had quickly followed.  The funny thing was that Gabby’s husband Callum had already gotten a transfer to a Seattle hospital.  By ferry, it was about an hour commute.  So they had already settled on getting a house in Sable Thicket too.   Mom and Dad were both retired and ended up moving up to a town just south of them, by about an hour.  Dad wanted to be close to the bases in case they ever had a job for him, once a military man, always a military man.  The whole family was within an hour of each other.
            She sipped her coffee and opened her writing program.  She got up, to get more coffee.  As she made her way to the kitchen, putting her cup on the counter, she decided to open the windows in the house to let the breeze of cool air come in.  She walked to the front door, disabled the security for the house, and opened all the windows, and the heavy front door leaving the screen door secure.  She walked back through the kitchen, grabbed more coffee, and walked around continuing to open the windows.  When she made it back to her office, she flipped on the security monitor that showed the various views from the numerous security cameras.
            Then she sat down at her desk, with the window open so she could watch the birds in her back yard, and got to work on her book.  She wanted to get what she could done before she had company that night. 
            The silence in the room was almost deafening except for the heavy punching of the computer keyboard at such a quick pace. 

Dark Woods : Prologue ©2017


            The house was dark and dingy.  It was kept tidy but the walls were dark now, no longer bright and vibrant like they were when she was little. Years of dust and grime, dirty hands and no one washing the walls had taken its toll. They didn't have much stuff, anyway, to keep clean. The carpets were worn down from foot traffic, with stains here and there.  The windows had layers of filth on them, practically blocking out the sun some. 
She slowly stepped down the stairs, being sure not to step on any of the sweet spots that would alert her father or brother she was coming down them.  She had painstakingly learned were every squeaking spot was.  She’d walk on her tippy toes down the steps, with her heart racing so fast and beating so hard inside her chest that she wondered if someone were standing beside her, they would hear it. 
She knew they were up to something.  Something bad, because they were horrible people.  Not that they ever did something good.  Everything they did was selfish. She had practically become invisible, not that she cared.
They claimed she was the bad one.  The dirty whore.  The unwanted bitch.  Anything that they could throw from their tongue that they thought would hurt her.  It never did, though.  Not anymore.  Not after everything they had done to her, to her body. She was used to it. Numb to it.  There was a time where it would hurt her, but not anymore.
            As careful as she was being, she hit a squeaky board that seemed to echo through the house.  Stopping instantly, she froze. She held her breath, she waited, and listened to see if she had alerted them.
When she was little, she dreaded leaving her school.  Most kids couldn't wait for that three o’clock bell to ring.  She hated it.  Life at home, it wasn't easy. She wasn’t like the other kids, there was no “love” in her house.  Her father was a drunk and her mother was weak. All her mother did was do whatever it was her father told her mother to do.   She realized now, her mom was extremely frightened of her father.  She realized now, he beat her mother daily.  At the age of six, she learned what a blow job was because her father told her mother to do it in front of her.  He hadn't cared, nor had the woman who was supposed to be a mother to her. 
But there were moments in her life filled with love and caring and hope.  Before he had broken her mother down to a shell of a person.  She had talked to her once about running away from the man that fathered her.  About taking her baby girl and escaping.  Though that day never came.  She had longed for it, waited it so badly, even at a young age, but it never happened.
            She spent years locked up in her room, with the lock on the hallway side of the door.  Trapped.  She had a mattress on the floor, some toys her grandparents had given her that her father couldn’t figure out how to return for money.  She had a few books, which she had read over and over again.  She liked getting lost in the worlds of Little Women and The Secret Garden.  Her grandmother on her mom’s side had sent her the Anne of Green Gables series, and those were her favorite books.  Especially since she could identify with Anne.  Feeling alone and unwanted, but just trying to find the good and bright and happy.  Looking to finally have a home, and to feel loved.
            In grade school she was expected home immediately.  When she got home, she would get shoved into her room and pushed down.  The door would slam shut behind her and the echo of the metallic click of the lock would echo through the room. They would bring her a plate to eat at some point, but usually it was cold. 
In middle school, she was allowed to join after school programs or sports.  When she was told she could, she was shocked.  Her parents didn’t want to draw attention to their family, they felt if she was active after school she would appear more normal. They knew what was going on in their house was wrong.  It wasn’t even the worst of things to come.  She learned to use the showers in the gym locker room every morning, the P.E. teacher kept some lost and found, clean clothes there in some boxes.  When she couldn’t manage to wash her own clothes in the bathroom at home or in the shower, she would usually take from there.  She joined the Track Team and Photography Club, along with a few other social circles.  She was told if she ever told anyone what was going on at home, she would be killed.  She knew they would do it, so she didn’t dare.   She did whatever allowed her to be home a lot less, so she took every opportunity not to be home. 
It was then that the beatings started.  He’d hit her … places people were less likely to see, and he enjoyed it.  He loved it.  It was around the end of middle school that her mother disappeared.  One weekend there was an out of town track event and she had been allowed to stay with a friend. It was the first “best weekend” of her life.  When she had come home he told her that mother ran away. 
She spent some time hating her mother.  Hating her with every fiber of every cell inside her.  How could she run away and leave her there?  How could she leave without her?  She cried that night, all night.   
            Her brother was treated completely different than she was.  He was three years older than she was, but he was treated like the prodigal prince.  He did anything their father said, and was as twisted in his sick mind like their father was.  Especially now that he wasn’t in school. She remembered when he used to try to protect her.  He’d take a beating for her when she did something wrong.  Then one day the light in his eyes just changed. He became scary and angry.
When she started high school, she continued with Track and Photography.  She also joined a Writing Club.  They no longer locked her in her room because she didn’t leave her room, she preferred to be as far away from them as she could.  She found music.  She found a clock radio at a garage sale for a quarter once, the people saw her looking at it and told her she could have it after a short conversation.  She ran from that garage sale before they could change their minds. 
At school, she noticed her brother was constantly watching her.  Then one night her door opened, and he came in.  He had just taken a shower and was only in a towel.  Her gut twisted inside her, as if to warn her she’d never be the same.  He let the towel drop.  When she screamed, she thought she could hear her father laughing from the hallway.  He had come to her all through her freshman year.  Her father and her brother took turns, sometimes the same night.  Sometimes they’d tie her up, they would always cover her mouth in some way so her screams couldn’t be heard.  Eventually, she just stopped screaming. 
It stopped when he got a girlfriend.  She knew that he abused the girlfriend, and she knew it was bad that she was thankful his attention was off her. Once her brother got bored with her, so did her father.  She was left alone.  Several months later, her brother’s girlfriend disappeared.  The police kept showing up, dragging her father and brother down to the police station to question them.  Eventually that stopped too.
After the girlfriend was gone, both her brother and her father would sneak into her room again.  Sometimes they’d watch each other and take turns. It didn’t matter how much she screamed, or cried, so she stopped. She’d just let them do what they did and she’d just lay there. 
            Then she noticed there was more and more women going missing around town, she’d hear about it around school.  Her dad and brother were spending less time at home and when they were home they were usually in the basement.  She noticed one day there was a pad lock on the basement door. In her gut, she knew.  But she had to be sure. 
            She stopped holding her breath.  She hadn’t noticed any sounds from them, no one came around the corner to hit her and tell her to go back to her room.  She felt sick.
            She was only fifteen and it felt like she had lived a lifetime of hell.
            Now, right now, it didn't seem like the squeak had gotten their attention.  She wasn't sure where they were or if they were even home.  They seemed to travel together, everywhere.  Where one of them was, both of them were.  She knew she had to be sneaky. 
            She allowed herself to breathe again and continued down the stairs.  She tip-toed through the living room and into the kitchen, again, avoiding any sort of squeaky board.  That’s when she heard them coming up the stairs from the basement, talking.  She hit in the corner of the pantry wall and the kitchen wall.  It was just big enough for her to flatten her back against and hide.  She prayed they were headed out the back door and wouldn’t walk past her.  Surely, they would see her if they did.  Surely, she was in for it, a beating, being raped, something would happen if they found her.  She tried to make herself as small as possible, willed herself to form into the tiny box the walls made.
            “What are you going to do about her?”  It was her brother’s husky voice.  You could hear the anger dripping from every word.  Anything coming out of his mouth had rage dripping from it. 
            “Well, we will do what we do with them all.”  Her dad growled.  Neither of them knew how to talk.  They both sounded completely uneducated and like cavemen. 
            “What about the parasite upstairs?  When are we going to take care of her?”
            “Soon,” her father said as they opened the back door.  Her heart stopped, her breath held.  “Can’t do it too soon, they’ll look at us cuz of your mother and Vicky.”  Her heart dropped.  She had been wondering lately if they had killed her mother.  If they had killed his girlfriend Vicky.  They both had just disappeared into thin air, never to be heard from again.  This confirmed it for her.  They had been involved with the disappearance of her mom and her brother’s girlfriend. 
            “I want to do her,” her brother said, she could almost see the disgusting smile spread across his face with the thought, like the Joker in Batman.  She had seen that movie at her friend Gabby’s house.  She didn’t get to watch television or movies much.  Only when she could spend the night with her best friend.  “I want to watch her bleed while I am inside her.”  Her stomach knotted up and she felt like she was going to throw up.  They were going to kill her, she realized.
            Her dad laughed, “Soon, right now you can imagine these other women are her,” and the back door opened and shut after they shuffled out.  She stayed pressed against the wall until she heard the roar of the run down, beat up car they had.  They were leaving. 
            If it wasn’t for her close friendship with Gabby, she didn’t know how she could have survived.  She remembered her dad, one night, threating to do to Gabby what he did to her.  She started screaming, and fighting, and she realized later it was that reaction he had wanted out of her. She debated on keeping away from Gabby, but when it came down to it, she couldn’t.  It was Gabby who started calling her Bella.  It was the first nickname, besides bitch and whore and whatever else her father and brother called her.  They certainly never called her Maribel.  Her mom had called her Mari when she was little, but it had been so long, she had almost forgotten. 
            She sighed, in relief, when the sounds of the car grew further away.  She moved quickly through the small kitchen, through the mess they had created and never cleaned up.  Now that her mother was gone no one could be forced to do the cleaning but her, and they barely bothered to make her anymore. She saw the cockroaches crawling all over everything, they didn’t bother to hid anymore.  Usually she could find an army of ants in the kitchen too.  She never bothered to eat there anymore.  They only meals she had, were the ones she could get at school. 
She made her way to the basement steps which were by the back door. She expected they would soon go to her room, drag her down by her hair, as they had done before, and demanded she clean up after them.  She wasn't allowed to eat with them, she got scraps when they were done, if she was lucky.  So she didn’t even eat that anymore, she wouldn’t eat unless it was at school.
            She went down the stairs and saw they had added another lock to the door.  She panicked for a moment.  Then looked around.  On the window sill was a key.  She grabbed it and prayed it opened it.  When the lock clicked, she took a deep breath and opened the door. 
            The smell that escaped the room was horrible. It is what she was met with first.  It was so horrible that she had grabbed the top of her shirt and covered her mouth and nose with it.  Then she flipped on the light. She saw blood.  So much blood.  There was a woman in a cage, tied up and gagged, she didn’t respond to the light.  Her eyes stayed shut and she was slumped over in the corner of the cage.  She thought she might be dead. 
            She almost vomited.  She turned around quickly, she almost ran.  That’s when she noticed all the padding on the walls in the basement.  On the back of the door.  Everywhere.  There wasn’t a part of the room that didn’t have some kind of blood splatter on it.  Most of it was dried on.  There were weird things hanging from the ceiling.  Different things built into the walls.  She thought it was like a torture chamber that she read about in books.  So many thoughts rushed through her head as she was taking stock of the room.  There was an old work bench, one that used to have tools on it that now had different kinds of knives and other things.  She saw what looked like leather collars for dogs, some with balls in the middle of them.   She saw a weird looking saw hanging on the wall.  A box of those really big black trash bags.  Then she saw all the pictures, the instant camera kinds with the white frame around them They were alll over the wall above the tool bench.  Then she noticed them on some of the back walls, covering the back wall. There were so many photos.   
She knew … she knew what she had to do.  She shut off the light, rushed up the stairs, shut the door and put the lock back on.  She ran up the stairs and practically jumped on the kitchen counters, causing dishes to clang to the floor, bugs scattered, to find the coffee can her mom use to hide money in that she kept on the very top of the cabinets. She had always said it would be their running away money.  She was hoping and praying it was still there.  She reached up and patted the top of the cupboards around, she felt dead bugs, and a few live ones’ crawl across her hand. She didn’t scream or flinch because she couldn't see and she was too busy praying she’d find the metal can.  When the very tips of her fingers touched something metal, she almost cheered. Her finger tips tried to work it out of the far corner and she struggled to get a grasp on it.  When she finally did she grabbed the can, pulling it out as quickly as she could.  She paused long enough to pull the plastic cover up to see if there was money still in there, and when she saw there was, she closed it.  She jumped off the counter, falling to her knees and ran through the house and up the stairs.  She grabbed her school backpack, throwing a few things in there, threw the can in there, the books she had been given.  She turned the clock radio on that she had gotten from that garage sale.  She stuffed anything she could find under her blanket on the mattress making it look like she was laying under the covers. 
Once she was satisfied it looked like she was laying there sleeping she looked around her room one last time.  When her eyes rested on the blue teddy bear her grandmother had sent her, the last thing she had ever gotten from her, she grabbed it and opened the bag one last time and closed it again. 
            Her heart was racing so hard she thought it was going to jump out of her chest.  She turned off the light, slammed her bedroom door, she flipped the lock for good measure, making it look as if they had locked her in.  She ran out of the house.  She didn't know what she was going to do, but she knew she had to do something.  She had to …
She stopped, freezing in place, she could hear the car coming down the street.  The loud engine was unmissable.  She panicked, looked around for a place to hide. She ducked into a bush and watched them pull into the driveway and they kept going to the back of the house by the garage and the back door.  She stayed there until she knew they had gone in the house.
            She had to save herself.  She had to try to save that woman if she wasn't already dead.  
            It was only then that she ran.  She ran like her life depended on it, because it did.  She ran like there were wolves snapping at her feet.  She realized she was running to her friend’s house.       She didn’t know how long it had taken for her to get there, she had no idea because it didn’t feel that long, but it felt like forever all at the same time.  She reached the door, covered in sweat and tears, and collapsed on the front step.  She started beating on the door with her fist as she screamed for help, with the last bit of energy she had.  Her breath was labored, she felt like she was in a tunnel and the walls were closing in on her.  She beat on the door until her hand couldn’t move anymore and then she just cried.  She didn’t realize it was only thirty seconds before someone made it to the door and threw it open to see her in the fetal position with her red fiery hair covering her face.  She heard her friend’s brother scream for his Dad. 
She couldn’t move, couldn’t speak.  She felt herself being lifted by some very strong arms.  Protective arms.  She had never before felt that in her life.  “Bella,” he gasped as he carried her up the stairs and laid her gently on the couch.  It was where she broke down crying, sobbing, and telling her friend’s frightened parents everything.  Every dirty rotten secret she held in her heart.  Everything she saw.  Everything they had done to her.  Everything she knew in her bones to be true.  Her father and brother were murderers.  They killed her mother, and all the women that had been in the news she heard about at school.  She knew it. 
            Then the cops came.  So many cops, she had thought.  She had to repeat everything.  There were looks exchanged between the cops.  Cops, she had been told, to never trust.  Here she was spilling her guts out to them.  Gabby’s parents had begged the cops to let her rest, but they had to take her to the police station. 
Despite the objections of her friend’s parents, they took her into the police station, and she had to repeat everything, all over again. They didn’t put her in one of those cold rooms with the two-way mirrors that she had seen on some movie at some point, but it looked more like a meeting room.  She told them everything.  She was there for hours, it felt like days. 
When she left the room for a bathroom break, at one point, she walked through the sea of desks to the bathroom where she had been instructed to go.  She had stopped dead in her tracks.  She couldn’t move and she realized she was holding her breath.  She could hear her father screaming.  Every other word was a f-bomb.  She looked up and saw officers pushing her father, cuffed up, through a hallway on the other side of a glass partition that separated the room of desks from other areas of the police station.  She saw him spit on a cop and then throw his head back and laugh manically before he tried to head butt another cop.  Then two cops came down the same hallway pushing her brother down the hall, also cuffed up.  His head was hanging.  It almost looked like he was shameful.  Almost like he was remorseful.  
“Hey,” a cop came up to her, put his hand on her back which made her jump like a scared rabbit.  “Sorry,” he whispered.  “Are you okay?” 
She nodded.  Looked back to where they had walked her father and brother but they were gone.  “Bathroom,” she whispered.  He pointed where she had been instructed to go. 
When she came out of the bathroom, she saw some looks that made her feel funny and self-conscious.  Some of the cops watched her make her way back to the room she had been sitting in with looks of sorrow. 
When she got into the room, she almost wanted to just curl up into a ball and hide.  Except there were a couple of officers in the room, the one who had been talking to her, and now another one.  He had some pictures in his hand, the instant camera kind, ones she bet were from the basement of her house. 
“Hey Maribel,” the new cop said softly and sweetly.  “I have some pictures that I want you to look at,” he told her.  “These ones are of some faces, just faces,” he continued.  “We just want to know if you recognize anyone.”
She sat down as he had been talking to her.  She nodded.  He put down the photos, one by one.  In a line, and another line, and another line.  He kept pulling more out of a clear bag he had sitting on a chair on the other side of the table.  There ended up being, what seemed like, a hundred photos covering the table. “These are only some of the polaroids that we had collected from the basement.” She had to get up from her seat to look at all of them.
She looked at each one carefully.  Giving each some thought.  “I recognize some of them from the newspapers that floated around at school.” She told them.  And then she stopped dead, as her heart sank into her stomach.  She pointed at the picture, “that’s my mom.”   She could tell that her head – her lifeless eyes – was no longer connected to her body.  Even though her neck was at the edge of the photo, she could see the jagged cuts and red flesh under the skin all the way to the to the grass it had been laying on. 
There was a photo that wasn’t too far off from the one of her mom.  It was Vicky, her brother’s girlfriend that had disappeared.  “That’s Vicky,” she stammered on the verge of tears.  Vicky wasn’t dead in her photo.  She was very much alive, with tears running down her cheeks.  Silver duct tape over her mouth.  Her vibrant green eyes were wide with fear and begging.  Snot coming out of her nose.  You could tell someone had a handful of her reddish-brown hair, tugging on it, like they were making her pose and look at the camera.  She was clearly terrified.  Under the photo, in big black bold letters, someone had written “whore.” 
She had been there a few more hours until a lady from Family and Children showed up.  When she did, she talked with her a little bit.  Told her that she was going to be placed with a family.  Bella just nodded in response.  After some chatting with her, they got up to leave the room.  She assumed she was going to get driven to some stranger’s house, but instead she was taken to a room where Gabby’s parents were waiting. 
“Oh, thank God!” Gabby’s mom, Rose, had shouted.  “Oh, my dear sweet Bella,” the tears started to pour out of her eyes as she jumped up out of a chair and enveloped Bella into her arms.  She felt warmth and safety.  She wondered if this is what love and family felt like.  Trust.   Gabby’s dad stood up and shook the Family and Children’s lady’s hands and thanked her over and over. Bella just broke down into more tears until she didn’t think she had any left.  It was then that Rose lifted Bella’s face, looked deep into her eyes, and told her they were taking her “home.”  She thought that they just meant their home, but she’d soon discover they meant it was her home too. 

A year later, Bella wasn’t as twig like as she had once been.  She had a little bit of meat on her bones and curves to her body.  Things weren’t easy.  The nightmares were horrible, the fear and need to be constantly looking over her shoulder was too much at times.  She wasn’t used to being part of a family, let alone feeling like someone actually cared about her like Rose and Phillip did.  They treated her like they did Gabby and her brother Reed. 
Being dragged into the court house for the trial was hard too.  The judge was nice enough to not have her father and brother in the court room when she was needed to testify.  When the custody rights had been taken away from her father and given to Rose and Phillip, it wasn’t hard to be at the court house, but she was still extremely uncomfortable around all the legal people after it had been beaten in her head that they couldn’t be trusted. 
She realized it was wrong, but the feelings were still there.  At least she could argue it in her head, even though her stomach was doing cartwheels inside her. 
And all the doctors, and the psychiatrists, and everyone else she had to talk to, tell the story over and over to, and work through her feelings with – made her want to scream. 
She just wanted to bury her head in the sand.  Wanted it all to just disappear so she never had to open her mouth about it again.  She wanted a new name, she wanted to be rid of being the daughter and sister of the murderers of Broward County.  When Rose and Phillip adopted her, she got the chance to change her name.  So, she did. She was no longer Maribel Susan Holister, and she never would be again. 
            When the trial was over, Phillip put in for a transfer with the company he worked for.  He got transferred to Oregon, about as far away from Florida as you can get.   They got uprooted but she looked forward to being somewhere where no one recognized her as the daughter of the serial killer, the sister of his apprentice.  Where she could just be herself and learn to get beyond her past to live a more normal life.