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First pages

Chapter 1: It Begins

Him

I dreamed of her many times. She was always seated at the table. Her hair was a mess; she was dirty and disheveled, but she carried a certain beauty that only a child who had been through her kind of Hell could exude. Her eyes were wise far beyond her years. She had seen violence and heartbreak in her short time on this earth and took it all in stride. The first time I dreamed of her, everything happened so quickly. I was just a helpless observer that she could not see. Her parents were arguing, but she did not seem to mind. It was her birthday, and she patiently awaited her party that was never to come.

I was drawn to the room where her parents were by the yelling. I saw a clown table broken in pieces on the floor of the tiny two bedroom apartment. The man had a large pocket knife in his hand, but the woman did not seem to notice. She kept screaming at him. I turned as the man plunged the knife deep in her chest. They were both still screaming. I ran to check on the little girl, who had not moved from the table, but had turned in the direction of the arguing by this point. I tried to warn her to run, but she could not see or hear me.

He ran from the room, wild-eyed and bloody. He noticed her at the table. She screamed as he grabbed her. I tried to intervene, but there was nothing I could do. He plunged the knife deep into her frail chest. She spat blood as she fell to the ground. I ran to her to hold her hand but she was unaware of my presence, even as she struggled with her last breaths.

This beautiful little creature, who I knew was meant for so much more, lay murdered on the floor of the roach-infested apartment. I didn't even know her name but I felt great sadness and anger at the situation. Then the man ran out, leaving the door wide open and bloody handprints in his wake. I cried for her, her mother, and myself for I felt a very strong connection with this girl. I waited with her until the ambulance came. Her mother was still alive, but the little girl was already gone.

Her

From as far back as I can remember, I have always been considered strange. I didn't socialize like the other kids, learned a bit faster than most, and was always thirsty to learn more. I was born to a mother far too young with no father to speak of. I was almost aborted, but my mother was too young at fourteen years old to make the call on her own, and my grandmother would not allow her to follow through with the abortion. My mother's next steps were to try to abort me in multiple different, very painful (to her) ways as she was far too young to know what to do with a child. Obviously, as I am telling you this story, she did not succeed. She named me Ariana and gave me her last name, Dewitt. I have always felt as though my hardships were the reason for my gift. I was one of the unwanted, unloved, undesired and almost one of the aborted, but I have no way of knowing why I was chosen for this burden.

One of my earliest memories was when I was six years old. I remember my sixth birthday party in tiny dank apartment I shared with my mom and one of her many boyfriends she would go through in her lifetime. It was roach-infested, dirty, and had this stench that permeated my clothes. Even when I was not there, I could smell the rotten aroma of cigarette smoke and decay. On this particular day, my mom's boyfriend was drinking and smoking pot. It was a normal occurrence to me. I sat in the chair at the kitchen table, anxiously awaiting my birthday cake and presents as I watched a roach crawl across the tabletop, no doubt after the remnants of breakfast that remained on the table, though it was well past dinnertime.

My mom and her boyfriend, John were arguing about one of the presents they had gotten me. None of them were wrapped, so I knew which one they were referring to. My mom had asked him to put together the little clown table for me and he had not obliged, though the argument by this point had extended well beyond my little clown table and was more on the lines of all the things wrong with their relationship at the time. She never cleaned, he never worked, etc. SMASH! There went my clown table and any hopes of getting it put together. I am not even sure which one had done it. I heard the faintest noise coming from behind me, above the yelling and turned to find a boy standing behind me.

He was older than me, a teenager. He had sandy blond hair and green eyes like mine. He was dressed very strangely, I remember thinking. He had on a blue button up shirt and black slacks with dress shoes. He had a scar on his forehead that was an odd rounded-type scar, unlike anything I had ever seen before. The thing I remember the most about this boy was the look on his face. He looked solemn, pleading. His green eyes begged me for something, but I had no idea what it was.

"There isn't much time. You need to come with me now." His voice was odd. There was something off about the way he spoke. The look on his face was too much for someone my age to understand, but it looked urgent, so I went with him. He led me back through the short hallway, past my mom and her boyfriend to the tiny room that I slept in. The yelling got louder. I looked around my tiny room. There was a small mattress on the floor that I slept on with a single blanket. I had no furnishings, but I did have various stuffed animals strewn about the room.

"You need to wait in here. Do not move, do not make a noise until you hear an unfamiliar voice." he whispered to me and motioned to my closet. I turned to ask him a question, but he was gone. I crawled into the closet, which was crammed with junk. I heard a very loud crashing sound, which scared me and everything went silent. I was hungry, but I was determined to listen to the boy so I stayed in the closet. I fell asleep for some time. I awoke to hear not just one, but many voices in the house. Groggy, I climbed out to see what was going on.

The first face I saw was as surprised to see me as I was him. He dropped the pen he had in his hand and yelled something to the lady behind him. She came running over with a blanket, which she wrapped around me and carried me to the table. She asked if I had seen what happened, which I replied that I had not. At about that time, I saw a gurney rolling out of her bedroom. On it was the long dark hair that I knew to be my mothers. She had something on her face over her mouth, but there was blood everywhere. She had it matted in her hair and all over her body. Her face was swollen and had it not been for her hair, I would not have known it to be her.

I screamed as she came by, but she did not answer me. She did not move.

"Mommy?" was all I could manage to say before the realization hit me that something was very wrong. The tears started flowing as I screamed for her over and over again. She did not move. She did not acknowledge me. I felt helpless, confused and alone.

"Mommy, why won't you talk to me?"

The lady tried to calm me. I remember her hugging me and telling me that it was going to be all right. My mom was alive and being taken to the hospital. I would learn later that her boyfriend had stabbed her and before she passed out from blood loss, she called the police. Her boyfriend had taken off. The police were looking for him, but had no leads to follow at the time. Had I been sitting at the kitchen table still, I may not be alive to tell you this tale today.

Chapter 2- Thicker Than Water

That day is burned in my mind forever. I never forgot the boy that I saw or the long hours waiting at the hospital for my grandmother to make it to me to pick me up. My mom recovered, though I am not sure she ever recovered mentally. My mom and I stayed with my grandmother for a while. I had always known my grandmother to be very condescending to my mom and very indifferent and mean to me.

When she was not cleaning her house and yelling at my mother for bringing roaches to her house (which she had for years prior), she was telling my mother what a pity it was that she had brought a child into this world. In the beginning, she never spoke to me, and I never spoke to her. I didn't speak much at all about anything those days. The free counselors that had been appointed to my mother and me said it was trauma. Realistically, I just didn't have anything to say to them.

Even at such a young age, I felt as though I was just baggage, being carried around from place to place. Sometimes forgotten until the next trip was planned. I knew that no one really wanted me around so I did my best just to stay out of the way. In those days, I got plenty of attention from the teachers at school that felt bad for me.

My grandmother's house was very scary to me as a child. It was decorated in the old Victorian style on the inside, even though it was a trailer. She had very uncomfortable chairs that were replicas of that era. It was a tiny single-wide situated on about one hundred fifty acres of land. It was mostly trees, and there was a decent-sized natural pond in the back.

There was no bed for me to sleep in, so I slept on the floor beside my mom's bed. She needed the bed for her recovery. A few weeks after we moved in with her, I got thirsty in the middle of the night. I got up and walked through the hall to the kitchen to get some water, when I felt someone watching me. I turned, but there was no one that I could see around. My heart started racing and I swallowed hard, second guessing how badly I wanted that water. I had heard stories about this land and how there were moonshine distilleries from the prohibition era here, right on this property. I had no idea what moonshine was or what the prohibition era was at the time, but the stories included all the bloodshed that had happened throughout history, right here on this land. I would learn later that my grandmother had made most of it up, but at the time, I was terrified. My grandmother loved to tell the stories in gory detail in all attempts to frighten me into speaking.

I made one more quick look around the kitchen and decided that it was safe to proceed to get my water. I walked to the cabinet, climbed up on top of the counter to get a cup in the dark, when something caught my eye outside the kitchen window. Something was hanging from the large oak tree outside. I squinted to try to see what it was, my heart hammering even faster now. I saw a man hanging from the tree by his neck, swaying to and fro. I blinked to see if he would disappear, but he did not. His eyes snapped to me. I saw a disturbing grin spread across his face, then, like that, he was gone. I searched what I could see of the yard by the moonlight, and I saw nothing. Not quite as thirsty as I had thought I was, I ran back to my mother's room and back into my pallet on the floor. I laid there awake for a long time, not quite trusting or understanding what I saw until I finally fell back asleep.

~~~

I was walking through the woods near my grandmother's house. Something was wrong. Everything was wrong. Everything looked different. I was scared, but I didn't know why. I circled back to my grandmother's house, but it wasn't there. Instead, there was an old wooden shack. It should have felt inviting. It had a little light and it was cold and dark outside, but it was not. Something was wrong with it, too. I walked closer to the house, drawn to the single light shining in the window. It was a lit candle, but the flame flickered furiously as though it were tremendously disturbed.

Upon looking in the window, I immediately wished I hadn't. I saw the man from the tree, only he was much different than I had seen him before. He was alive and yelling, but had the same cold eyes and creepy grin. There were people kneeling on the floor in front of him. One was a young girl that was a my age, maybe six or seven years old. She had on a white gown and her pretty blonde hair was tied back with a blue ribbon. She was crying but dared not move. Next to her, holding her hand, was a woman I assumed to be her mother. She had the same blonde hair, but her face seemed blurry. I could not tell her features, but she was also in a long white gown, a little different than her daughter's. There were several deep cuts on her arms that were bleeding. Next to her was another man, who was also kneeling and pleading for the lives of his family.

"Please, let 'em go. I'll give ya anything you want. I don't have much, but please don't hurt 'em." His last words were cut off by a sharp slap to his face. He went down.

"I told you to continue kneeling. Boss man wants you ta pray to him for forgiveness," the evil grinning man stated, yanking the man up harshly by his arm.

I heard rustling from somewhere behind me. I was frozen in fear as I spotted another man coming from behind me. He did not see me. I was not sure how as he walked right past me and into the front door of the shack. The kneeling man immediately got back to his knees, his face red from the slap and from the tears that continued to stream down his face.

They were all scary to me, but this man was the epitome of fear to me. He was a very large man wearing ahat that was probably originally black but had grayed with time and wear. It made him look even more menacing as it covered his forehead almost down to his eyes. His dirty black hair fell in greasy waves around his shoulders. He was slightly hunched over, but even then, his hat almost scrubbed the ceiling of the tiny shack. His trench coat hung around his calves. He seemed to consume the entire room. He spat some crude brown liquid on the floor.

"Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but I do believe we had a very clear understanding of the rules of this operation." The man on his knees looked frightened and hesitated before speaking.

"Yes, sir, we did have an understandin'. I didn't..." Another hit to the man but this time with the butt of the shotgun the man in the hat pulled from inside his coat. The mother and child screamed and grabbed for the man of their family but were pulled away by the evil grinning man and thrown to the other side of the room. The man in the hat spat on the man on his knees and said, "Payback's a bitch, boy, but when you mess with the devil... well, let's just say he takes notice." He looked to the evil grinning man.

"Eugene, you know what ta do. Make sure it lasts." He walked out of the shack and turned to walk away. The screaming started. He hesitated slightly. He turned and looked in my direction, right at me. I could not move. I could not breathe. He walked toward me a few steps, looking in all directions as though looking for some noise or voice. I held my breath until my lungs ached. After what seemed like an eternity, he walked off in the other direction. He got into a strange black car and left.

I peered back into the window to see what was happening. Eugene was holding a gun to the father's head, and the dad was tying up his wife and child. "Make sure it's tight," he said.

The man looked to Eugene. "You gonna let 'em go when you've done what you need with me, right?" They were all crying, but the mother and child had been gagged.

"On my mother's grave," Eugene stated simply as the man finished tying up his wife and daughter.

"Let's go, "Eugene said to the trio. The man helped his wife and daughter to their feet. "When we get there, girls, I want you to close your eyes. Know that I love you and everything is gon' be okay, I promise."

Eugene grabbed the ladies and held a gun to their backs, urging them forward. The father was not tied up, but he followed, willing to do whatever needed to keep his family safe. They walked toward the door of the shack. I eased around the corner, no longer frozen by fear at this point. I was drawn into what was happening like a moth to a flame.

They exited the shack and began walking toward the pond, which was somewhat close to the shack. I followed, leaving plenty of distance between us as I did not want to be spotted. I was barefoot and used to walking softly, so I did not make a sound, even when stepping on sticks that attempted to break through the skin of my hardened feet. We walked past the giant oak tree that I had seen Eugene hanging from, only the tree was smaller. It seemed less menacing, somehow. The little girl fell and upon trying to get back up, she spotted me. Her eyes grew wide and she whimpered for help, but the gag would not allow her to speak. Eugene roughly grabbed her and dragged her farther. The father grabbed her hand away from him.

"You don' get to touch her," he stated, but he barely got the sentence out before he was shot in the leg.

"You don't get to talk to me like that," Eugene commanded. "Keep walking."

Eventually, we made it to the pond. Eugene pulled out some more ropes and another gag. He ordered the father against a tree. The mother and child sat down beside him. The mother sat with her head against her husband in a sad, longing goodbye. The tears streamed down her face and the daughter snuggled with him as well. The father gave them one final embrace before Eugene forced them apart, again demanding the father against the tree.

"Can we please just get this over with. I don' want 'em to suffer mor'n they got to," the father pleaded. Eugene smiled his terrifying smile and in that instant, I saw how he looked hanging from the tree again. The sun was beginning to touch the horizon. Dawn had approached, so I could see his face a bit more clearly than a few moments prior.

"Boss said to make it last, and that's what I intend to do." The father hung his head and did not fight Eugene when he started to tie him to the tree. He tied him tightly with both his hands and around his waist. He tied his head to the tree as well overlooking the water with one rope snugly across his throat. Eugene then took the time to force the father's legs Indian style and tie his feet crisscrossed behind him to the tree as well. When he was as snug as he could get, his final touch was to gag the father.

He then looked to the crying mother and child. Their blonde hair ruffled and hanging. They were so close together, you could not tell where the mother's hair ended and the daughter's began. I could now see the mother's features. She was a pretty woman with pale blue eyes and a hint of smile lines around her mouth. Eugene grabbed the mother and daughter, who were still gagged and still had their hands tied behind their backs. As he did, the mother realized what was happening but it was too late. She thrashed and kicked. The father screamed and struggled with the ropes, gagging from the pressure of the rope on his throat tightening. Eugene dragged the mother and child together to the pond and held tightly to them as he forced the mother under water first. The daughter struggling fruitlessly against his left side.

The mother was under the water until she struggled no more. Eugene let her float there face down as he grabbed the child. She looked to her father, her little eyes begging him to help, then to her mother as Eugene held her under the water until she was no longer struggling either. She did not rise to the top as her mother had. She stayed at the bottom, but part of her once-white nightgown floated to the top.

Eugene walked to the father and removed his gag. "You son of a bitch! I'll kill you!" the father spat out, gagging even more now from the strain of the rope on his neck. "You promised! I did everything you asked!" He let out a wail of sorrow like nothing I had ever heard and like nothing I would ever forget. His head drooped against the ropes as the wail came to an end.

Eugene walked to him, put his gun against the father's head and said, "You go on and try, boy." The father screamed an angry terrifying scream and struggled to break free. "That's what I thought, Danny boy. You go on and keep struggling. You're gon' stay right there until the buzzards come’n eat you. You might be dead when they start picking at you an' you might not, but you're only gettin' what's comin' to ya. " Danny spit on Eugene's face and vowed that he would get what was coming to him.

Eugene smiled, wiping the spit from his face and said, "Oh, by the way, my mama ain't dead. She's healthy as a horse, so swearing on her grave don' really mean a whole lot ta me."

"Even if it ain't by me, you gon' get what's coming to you. Boss'll turn on you like he did me and you're going to roast in Hell, and I'll see you there you piece of..." Eugene stuck the gag back in his mouth. "Don't struggle too hard, Danny boy. We can't have you dyin' too soon on us."

Chapter 3- Clarity

I awoke with a start. Someone was watching me. I looked around. Daylight was starting to trickle in. My mama was still sleeping. My mind was still trying to process what I had seen. I was too young to understand any of it like I do now. I glanced around the room, taking comfort in the daylight, feeling safe. When I looked to the bedroom door, my breath caught. I saw the little girl from my dream standing in the doorway, watching me. She pointed to my feet. I looked down to see my feet muddy and cut from my barefoot run in the woods the night before. Surprised, I looked back to the doorway and she was gone.

I got up and went to the bathroom. I rinsed my feet in the tub, afraid that I'd be in trouble for sneaking out at night even though I had no recollection of leaving. I sobbed silently for the family I had seen in my dream, getting the strong feeling that what I had seen was real. I quietly went out and made myself a bowl of cereal. We kept the cereal in the refrigerator to keep the bugs out, but it didn't always matter. I looked in the box and decided that it was safe and bug free. I poured myself a bowl and a dead bug poured out with it. No longer hungry, I poured the cereal back in the box, but I missed some and it spilled to the floor.

My grandmother snatched the box away from me. She had startled me because I hadn't heard her up and about. My head was still swimming from the previous night's terror.

"You stupid child!" my grandmother spat at me. "You and your mother better get your stuff together and get out of here soon or my house will be overrun with vermin worse than you." She started mumbling to herself and cleaning up the tiny mess I had made. I put on my shoes and jacket, still in my clothes from the day before as no one had bothered to bathe me or change my clothes. I frequently slept in my clothes or in one of my mother's t-shirts when someone did put some thought into my clothing.

I stepped outside in the cool autumn air. We were in the mountains of Tennessee and though it was cool, it was not too cold. I decided that I wanted to go exploring. I wanted to do anything to keep me away from the house during the day. My stomach rumbled, but I was used to it so I paid it little attention. I started walking, and before I knew it I had made it to the pond. It was not my intention to go there, but I was drawn to it. It was quiet in this spot. I did not even hear the birds singing. The air seemed thick, like the fog that had not quite lifted yet this morning. Most of what was left, though had situated itself over the pond.

I went to the tree that I had seen Danny boy tied to. It was much bigger now, older, more menacing. There were some holes in it where it appeared to be starting to rot. I looked at it for any signs of truth in what I had seen the night before, but there was none. I sat in the very spot that Danny had been in only hours before in my mind. I looked over the water to where Eugene had drowned Danny's family, but I saw no indications of a disturbance of any kind. Not so much as a ripple creased the smooth glass surface of the water.

I sat there for a very long time. I was hungry and had not slept well the previous night so I dozed off against the tree. A whisper in my ear, "He's coming for you," woke me up. I looked around and felt someone's presence, but there was no one around. The water was still calm, though the fog had completely lifted now. My heart was hammering in my chest. Had I dreamed the voice?

I still felt as though someone were there, but I saw no one. I shook it off and decided to walk the edge of the pond looking for blueberries. I had seen some a few days prior. I was not sure how I knew that they would not hurt me, thinking back on it now but I did know, especially since I had eaten some previously and felt just fine. I found what I was looking for after a short walk around the pond just inside the woods. There were so many blueberries there, and I was so hungry that I picked and ate until I felt beyond full, maybe even a bit nauseous.

I was careful not to get pricked by the thorns. I had made it a good distance when something caught my eye. It was a blue ribbon. It looked exactly like the one I had seen in the little girl's hair in my dream. I took the ribbon and stuck it in my pocket. I wasn't sure why I took the ribbon, but again, I was drawn to it.

I spent the rest of the day outside, doing normal six-year-old things, well, normal for a six-year-old who is allowed outside that length of time by herself. It was too cold to get in the water, but I ran around and played tag with no one. I talked to the animals that I saw. Sometimes, the squirrels would allow me to get within a few feet of them before they scampered away. I would beg them to come back, but they would just twitch their tails at me, sometimes barking that they didn't want me to mess with them, so I obliged.

I came back home that night after one more stop at the blueberry patch, not knowing if I were going to eat that night. I did, however forget to wipe the evidence from my face, so when I came inside my grandmother yelled at me to take my shoes off and go get in the tub. I ran myself some water. It was far too hot, so I waited for a little while before getting in. I got in and washed myself best I could, which wasn't very well.

On my first attempt to get out of the tub, I tried to dry my hair and found that there was still a good bit of suds in it, so I got back in and put my head back under the water. I closed my eyes so the soapy mixture wouldn't get in them, and I saw the little girl's face underneath the water of the pond. The bubbles were rising around her. Her blue ribbon waving to me. Her eyes opened and looked right at me. I sat straight up in the tub and wiped my eyes. I looked around, expecting to see her there, but I did not.

I got out of the tub and this time did not care whether all the suds were out. I quickly dried. My grandmother had laid out some clothes for me on the toilet at some point. I do not remember her coming in, but there they were. Some fresh undergarments and a t-shirt far too large for me with a pair of pants that were far too big. I left the pants off for the time being. I reached in the pocket of my discarded clothes and retrieved the ribbon, which I wrapped around my wrist and tucked the ends inside the wrap.

I walked out into the kitchen and was surprised to see my mother sitting at the kitchen table, sipping some coffee. It smelled a bit stronger than coffee, but I was glad to see her up out of bed for the first time since the incident. "Hey, kiddo," she said, but I saw a cringe of pain in her face at the words. She had been stabbed a total of six times that night at the apartment, mostly in her abdomen and chest. Luckily, the knife had missed all the spots that could not be repaired by the surgeons. One or two had struck her in the right lung, though, so breathing and speaking was, at times, particularly painful for her.

I smiled at her, but said nothing. My grandmother set a plate in front of my mother and me that looked like vomit. She called it goulash, but it was macaroni noodles that had been far overcooked with spaghetti sauce and hamburger meat. I didn't care. I ate every bit of what she put down in front of me. My mom picked at it a bit and decided she was tired, and with the help of my grandmother she was off to bed again. I picked up the dishes from the table and put them in the sink as I had been taught and went to the bedroom. I laid on my pallet beside my mom and fell fast asleep, my belly full and exhausted from the day's events.

"You've seen him. You are marked and you must run!"

The voice shouted to me, jarring me awake. I was disoriented. Where was I? It was cold and dark, and I was wet. I looked around, getting my bearings, only for a second. I recognized the pond and the tree that Danny had been tied to. My t-shirt was drenched, and I was again bare footed.

"RUUUUUUNNN!"

A girl’s voice shouted to me, and it took no more effort for me. I started running. I ran to the only safe place I knew. I heard twigs snapping behind me, but I did not stop to look at what was chasing me. I ran directly toward my grandmother's house. The footsteps grew closer. I saw the big oak tree in the front. The rope was there where the man had once hung, but he was not. I ran past it and made it to the door. I opened it up and slammed it shut behind me. Had I thought harder, I would have locked it but I did not.

My grandmother grabbed my arm and squeezed so hard that I felt she might break it. "Where have you been, you little brat?!" she stated harshly, but something about the fear in my eyes stopped her at once. She loosened the grip on my arm and glared at me.

"What happened?" She stated blandly.

I looked up at her and burst into tears. Whoever or whatever had been chasing me had decided not to pursue me inside the house, so I fell right there on the floor and cried until I could cry no more. My grandmother, dumbfounded by this, noticed my wet clothes. She went to her closet and pulled out another t-shirt for me to put on. I was shaking and cold. I do not remember falling asleep, but there were no more dreams haunting me that night. I slept a hard, dreamless sleep through the night.

I had fallen asleep on the floor, but I woke up back in my pallet. I guessed my grandmother had moved me there after I fell asleep. I woke up with a roach crawling on my face. I screamed and brushed it off as quickly as I could, but it was not a roach. It was my own hair tickling my face. I smelled something divine in the kitchen and went to see what it was.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

I am a married mother of three that lives in Florida. I have many hobbies such as working on cars, writing, reading, painting and pretty much anything outdoors.

Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
My inspiration for this story came from a recurring nightmare I had as a child while living with my grandmother in a place that was very similar to the one described in this story.
Q. Tell us about the cover and the inspiration for it.
A.
I created my book cover to match one of the most important scenes from the book: The pond Betty was murdered at, which was also my inspiration for the cover. The girl on the front that is supposed to represent Ariana is actually my daughter.
Q. What did you learn while writing this book?
A.
I learned that formatting the book is one of the biggest obstacles to overcome. I did not come from a literary background and I tried to write as it flowed to me, but that does not always translate well to the page.

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