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From my upcoming, soon-to-be-published book "Cold," I present Chapter One, exclusively here.
The following work is copyright 2014 by H.A. Larson - author. Any and all rights belong to author.
The night his mother died, Michael lay huddled and shivering on the forest floor. It was early Spring, and the old leaves from Fall were starting to turn back into earth. They felt cold and slimy under his hands. It was raining particularly hard, and there was a bitter chill in the air. Underneath him, sheltering her as best as he could was his little sister Julia. Even though he was slight in build, he felt like he was crushing her so he tried his best to hold himself up from her using his palms. Normally, his arms would be tired, but adrenaline was keeping him strong.
From his vantage point, Michael could see the top half of the house, rising like a black cloud over the tops of the trees. He could see smoke rising from the chimney, swirling in anomalous patterns, beaten down by the rain. Even from here, he could hear the intense yelling and crashing sounds emanating from the house. “Mommy!” cried Julia, scared. Michael instinctively threw his hand over her mouth and whispered into her ear, “We have to be quiet Jules, please, don’t make a sound. Ok?” He felt her nod against his hand.
As he lifted his head back up again to look across the trees, he noticed that the furor that had emanated from the house like a tumor had been replaced with eerie silence. Even the pelting rain had dwindled into a trickle. In his mind, he chanted over and over again, “Please momma, be all right. Please momma, be all right.” Just then, the sound of gunshots pierced through the silence, shattering the ominous calm, and washing over them like a tidal wave. Michael’s heart dropped, and a queasy, sinking feeling gripped his gut. His hopes for the right outcome were immediately crushed by the shout of his stepfather outside the house, “Fucking BITCH!”
Michael heard the sound of his stepfather’s truck door slamming, and then the motor came to life, cutting through the forest like the sound of a train screaming past. He could hear the tires peeling out on the rough gravel that made up the driveway and then down the road that led away from their remote house in the woods.
He couldn’t breathe, and realized that he had been holding his breath. He heaved in deep, cold, damp breaths and looked down at Julia, but it was too dark to see her expression. Alone, cold, wet, and scared, brother and sister sat and stared at the house, and waited.
Michael couldn’t say how long they waited, but he was jolted out of the fog that encased him by Julia sobbing beneath him, “Mommy. I want mommy.” He was afraid to take Julia back to the house, but he knew he had to go there. He hadn’t heard his mom say anything, or yell out from the house for them. They had only heard their stepfather, and Michael knew he had to check on his mom. He couldn’t leave Julia here either.
He grabbed Julia’s hand and together they ran as fast as they could through the woods. The moonlight barely pierced through the dense ceiling of trees, and he almost tripped on a felled log. Julia slipped and stumbled on the wet carpet of dead foliage, and he picked her up. The distance to the house seemed so great that Michael almost doubted that they would get there. They ran as fast as they dared until they arrived at the back door. Out of breath again, Michael was overwhelmed by a sense of dread so acute that he felt like he was floating. He was afraid to open the door and go in, but his concern for his mother overrode his sense of fear, so cautiously, he opened the door and crossed the threshold into the dark kitchen. The creaky aged door seemed incredibly loud and Michael looked around, anxious that their stepfather would hear the sound and find them.
At a near snail’s pace, they entered the dark kitchen. Julia let out a squeal, “Ouch!” and he realized that he was gripping her hand too tightly. A peal of thunder broke the stillness and a bolt of lightning followed. The sound of it was like a jet plane crashing into the side of the house and Michael felt momentarily disoriented. The lightning illuminated the room and he could see that pots, pans, and dishes were scattered everywhere. To the left, a frying pan sat in a dark pool of liquid.
Looking further, he could see his mother stretched out in the pool as well, and he understood that the pool of liquid was his mother’s blood. His dread turned to horror as he flung himself across the room to his mother’s body, practically ripping Julia’s arm off in the process. As she knelt down next their mother, a bewildered look on her face, Michael started shaking his mother.
With tears streaming down his face, he screamed at her lifeless body, “Wake up mom! Wake up! Momma! Please…WAKE UP!” Julia started weeping then. She looked at Michael and quietly asked, “Mommy?” He grabbed his sister and held her close. As they wept together, Michael gazed over Julia’s shoulder at his mother. Even in death she looked beautiful, and he missed her so much already. The most intelligent, kind, and wonderful mother in the world lay lifeless beside him. He took in then that he would never take comfort in her loving arms again. Never again would he receive her kisses when he was sad. Never again would he talk to the person that mattered most to him.
His crying turned into deep, heaving sobs. He must have continued like that for an hour before he stopped. He noticed Julia lying next to their mom’s body, holding her still-warm hand. He slowly got up, walked across the kitchen, carefully stepping over kitchen cupboard debris in the barely lit room. When he got to the phone, he picked it up. A dial tone welcomed him, and he punched the numbers on the lighted keypad, the eerie green light cast a faint glow over the entire room. On the other end of the line someone answered, “911, what’s your emergency?”
After hanging up the phone, Michael took Julia upstairs to where their bedrooms were. He knew they would be going away, so he wanted to make sure they could get some of their favorite things. Grabbing their school backpacks they put stuffed animals, pictures, books, and other mementos into their bags and descended the stairs to wait.
Much later, lying in the bed that used to be his mother’s, in the room that used to be his mother’s at his grandparent’s house, he listened to Julia’s quiet breathing next to him. Rolling over onto his side he opened the locket that his mother always wore so proudly around her neck. He had carefully taken it off his mother’s lifeless body before the police came and escorted them away from the nightmare that was this night. Using the moonlight that gently lit up his side of the bed; he looked at the two tiny pictures inside. Mom and he, Julia and mom. The tears came then and he quietly cried himself to sleep, clutching the locket in his hand.