Prologue for Chasm:

 

PROLOGUE

Officer Wilbur Tullin’s foot smashed deep into the gas pedal, his hands scattering to catch the box of powdered sugar donuts before they slid off the dash to the dirty floor. Sitting the box up on the seat, his fat hand groveled, reaching in to pluck one out. With his mouth watering, he inspected it and smacked his lips before shoving one of the sugary treats into his mouth—sending the fine, white powder flying everywhere.

His nose poked the air. He could smell it …smell the dirty. It penetrated deep, lighting up his nostrils long before it billowed up ahead of him, littering the periwinkle sky.

After thirty-seven years on the police force here in Franklin County, Tennessee, the ominous scream of his screeching siren always made the hair rise on the back of his neck, and this call was no exception. Valentine’s Day, he guessed, had started out terribly wrong for the families involved in this accident.

Dust flew. His black and white cruiser whipped to the left and skidded to a stop. He flung the door wide, getting his belly stuck behind the steering wheel before wedging his way out. The shrill ringing of the cross-arms was deafening, and he slapped his palms over his ears, drowning out the viciousness. The red lights, flashing their second-too-late warnings, were blinding and perilous.

Two other cops from neighboring towns paced the scene.

Officer Tullin approached them, grinding his teeth. “Land sakes …this ain’t what I wanted ta see today.” He took off his hat and wiped his glistening brow with his forearm, eyes coming to rest on the gory scene.

The slim, younger cop looked up at him. “It’s not good, Officer Tullin. I just came back from talking to the Conductor. Nothin’ they coulda done …they were loaded full. Evidently, the car got stuck on the tracks.”

Officer Tullin eyed the monstrous, blue and yellow FCT coal train, thumbing his right ear, searching the area. “Don’t suppose anybody could have lived through that.”

“No, Sir. If the Conductor wouldn’t have seen the car before they hit, there wouldn’t have been any way to even make out what it was.”

Officer Tullin edged his way closer to the pile of bent and twisted metal, peering inside of what was left of the small car. It still smoldered …gagging him. He pulled back, unsteady, grasping the torched, rough edges to gain control.

Images of his own daughter and her two children flashed in his mind, and he knew this little girl and boy, along with their momma, had been someone’s everything. He’d seen these types of accidents before and knew that nobody ever lived through a train accident, but whenever he saw young children involved it always stopped his heart.

He popped a fist to his chest a couple times. A deep and heavy ache continued to lodge itself there.

He swallowed hard and looked back at the young officer, voice hoarse. “Where’s the Engineer?”

“He’s still in the engine …down on the floor, buried inside himself.”

****

Taylor Vine placed a warm, yellow plastic bowl in her next-door-neighbor’s wrinkled hands. “Bud, you tell that wife of yours to eat this chicken soup. It’s made from scratch, homemade noodles and everything. I need to have her feeling better. We’ve got a whole day of sewing and visiting to catch up on.”

Bud Goodwin shot her a pleasant grin, the wrinkles in his face indenting even deeper. His free hand trembled on the doorknob—the ill-effects of age taking its toll. “Oh, I’m sure she’ll be up and at em’ before long. Not much keeps my girl down. Although, that darn egg.” He squinted and pulled his mouth to the side, clicking his cheek. “She’s been pretty depressed about it being gone.”

Taylor’s eyes widened, and she extended her neck toward him. “Her lead-crystal egg? What happened?”

Bud pulled his shoulders up into a shrug and exhaled. “I don’t know. Went missing about two nights ago. Apparently, we got broken-into when I took Edith to get cold medicine for that hacking cough she has. We didn’t even know it was missing till the next day. Edith happened to notice that the sun didn’t seem quite as bright coming in through the window. You remember, she always kept it there on that library table?” He gestured with his hands.

Taylor grimaced at the rigidness of his tense jaw and reddened face. Bud never angered too easily, but she could see this was something that irritated and saddened him. “How could I forget? That egg was special. Didn’t it have Edith’s initials engraved on the bottom?”

Bud chuckled. “Yep, E.G.G., Edith Gertrude Goodwin. I gave it to her for our twenty-fifth anniversary, and thought it fitting. I hope whoever stole it had a hard time carrying it out. It was darn heavy, and wasn’t cheap.” He pursed his lips and pushed his crinkled chin forward.

“Well, you tell Edith we’ll keep our eyes peeled for her beloved egg.”

Bud opened the front door, and they stepped out onto the slick, frost-covered stoop. Taylor shivered. “Brr, it’s nippy out. I hate this cold stuff. Spring better hurry up.” She took a deep breath, briskly rubbing her hands over her purple wool sweater, gazing up into the foggy, Boston night, the sound of sirens echoing somewhere off in the distance.

“I agree. This winter stuff can take a hike.”

“At least Bruce will be home soon. He’s been working late these past few nights, and it’s beginning to look like it could snow. But, you have a goodnight, Mr. Goodwin. I’ll check and see how Edith’s doing tomorrow.”

Bud tipped his black fedora, a few wisps of his gray comb-over going with. “Thanks again, Taylor, goodnight.”

She closed the door and leaned against it with a long sigh. Bud and Edith were some of the best neighbors a person could ask for, and they had grown close to Taylor in the ten years she and Bruce had lived here.

Taylor closed her eyes and smiled to herself—life couldn’t get any better. Bruce had given her everything, making her world complete.

Both of the kids were in bed, and since it was Saturday night and Valentine’s Day, she had plans of lighting her vanilla candle and opening a bottle of wine, celebrating Bruce’s monumental win in court yesterday. White bubbly turned him on.

She tried hard to stay away from the drink, but this was a special occasion, and she knew that Bruce would want her to celebrate with him.

She tossed aside her purple sweater, pulled down on her blue pencil-skirt, fluffed her breasts, and wiggled into her black high heels. Bruce loved it when she dressed to impress, and she didn’t want to disappoint.

Her white blouse, rigged in such a way that one pull on the ribbon lacing across her chest would make the entire thing fall away—made it all the better for easy access. Sometimes, Bruce became a little too eager when it came to the bedroom romps.

The doorbell rang. Taylor’s hand fluttered to her throat. “Bud …did you forget …? Oh my….” Her face fell pallid and her mouth gaped, the shimmering brass of a policeman’s badge glaring in her eye.

“Sorry to bother you, Mrs. Vine, but we’ve got your husband here.” The dark police officer scrutinized her, clutching his thick fingers around Bruce Vine’s arm. “He’s being arrested.”

Taylor’s breath caught and her skin tingled when her gaze swept to the handcuffs swinging from her husband’s wrists. “Wha …what happened?” Her hand jerked, unsure—it’s awkward momentum lunging for Bruce’s imprisoned hand.

Excerpt from Chasm!

The blaring light woke him, intense enough to pull him out of a deep dream. He was down on his mattress, buried deep in the ground, when it yanked him up by the collar and shook him vigorously.

The glorious ray of light held a rich golden intensity, the broadness of it …vast and illuminating …spanning. He shook his head, trying to make sense of it all. His eyes blinked and he squeezed them back shut, thinking he was dreaming. But this was no dream.

He spurted off the mattress. It had to be car lights. Someone had found him. What else could it be? It didn’t make sense. Poised at the bottom step, he listened, then sniffed the air, stumbling backward when the scent that drifted in carried the familiar essence of children.

He rushed up the ragged steps, two at a time, exalted at what he knew was waiting for him on the other side.

Their laughter rang in his ears.

Staggering backward, he collapsed, going down on his bare knees. He gripped his head, reeling, flabbergasted to see what had unfolded before him.

Stunned by the vivaciousness of the sky, he looked up. It was brilliant …shimmering a vivid gold …blotched with streaks of blue and pink crayon scribbles. The air smelled of sweet, whipped vanilla strawberry shortcakes and pink cotton candy on a stick, with little sprinklings of rubber bouncy balls mixed in on the breeze.

He was stricken, but his face broke open …and bloomed.

The children were wondrous, their contagious laughter paralyzing while they zipped through the air on the swings …squealing …laughing …crying. His thirst for them was unquenchable and he laughed exhilaratingly, tears pouring down his face. He stumbled toward them.

When he rushed, stumbling—his arms outstretched to catch them before they fleeted away—he faltered and fell. He couldn’t get to them fast enough. “Meggie …Josh …you’ve come home! You made it!”

He got close, closing his arms in to embrace them. He swiped …swiped again …but they were gone. Two empty swings were the only things left. They swayed lightly in the breeze; the chains …needing oiled, whispered sadly. The sky shrank inside itself, returning to its normal light blue …a few bumpy clouds littering its smooth surface.

His eyes, with their long lashes, blinked quickly, looking like a spider trying to scurry to safety. He steadied their wild darting and focused, realizing that it wasn’t swings at all—with their squeaking chains and white plastic seats—but just two dead, white tree branches, rubbing and scraping against each other in the breeze.

“Meggie …Josh …don’t leave me.” He stared down at his empty hands. His shoulders quaked and he sank to his knees, sobbing into his palms.

Chasm #TuesdayTeaser

She ran to the open gate, hearing the lonesome sound of its squeaking metal hinge as the sinister breeze pushed it open even wider. Her chest was heavy and heaving, and she clutched at her blouse, trying to hold in her heart. Arching her hand over her eyes, she squinted into the sun and looked down the gravel road. He surely wouldn’t have gotten out on the road, she’d always warned the children about the dangers.

The dismal dust flying, tossing its heinous corrosion into the air, caught her eye first. The car was approaching at an insurmountable speed, waggling across the road and ditches, out of control. Her little boy’s succulent blond head, bobbing up and down by the edge of the ditch—playing and chattering—caught her eye next.

In warped, slow motion speed …her world crumbled. Her heart, viciously ripped out of her chest, fell mangled to the ground …writhing, flailing …dirtied up with gravel.

She couldn’t get to him fast enough. Just like those horrible nightmares that leave you frozen and motionless, she struggled to move—felt like her feet wouldn’t carry her off to her own death.

“Cody!” Terrorized, she screamed, but couldn’t hear her own voice. “Cody! No! Please, Cody, no!”

The car was so close and the dust so thick that, even when she ran to him, she couldn’t see. She only knew that the distance between the end of her world and the out of control car was merely inches.

After the dust settled, the only thing she could see was the dizzying black spots flashing in front of her eyes. Her vision was gone, and her legs were about ready to let go—even they had given up. Barely standing, she could hear the blood whooshing in her ears while she tried to focus, searching for him.