(Not Professionally Edited)
The hands grabbed hold, tugging at her, trying to pull her down. They tugged at her hair, yanked at her clothing, clawed at her skin. Their wailing sobs deafened her.
It was dark, so utterly dark, and she felt swallowed up by it. She tried to fight them off, tried to break free, but the more she fought, the more she felt sucked in.
“Stop, stop, I can’t breathe.” The dirt covered her, clogging her eyes, her mouth, her nose. She gasped, struggling to break out of her grave.
In the distance, the bells rang so loud she felt it vibrate in her bones.
Sam woke with a start, sitting straight up in her bed, gasping for breath. Her vision cleared and she saw the pale yellow walls, the oil painting of the sunset she’d created a year ago, her dresser directly beneath it with the stack of books on art crowding it.
She let out a long breath, then fell backwards on the bed and wept. Her body shook with the tears, clogging her ears as they drained down the side of her face.
She felt everything those children endured, every ounce of fear was a fear she experienced as if it was her own. And when their life was snuffed out so drastically, she felt them dying.
In the distance, Sam heard muffled voices, hushed tones. Wiping a hand across her face, she steadied herself, and crawled from the bed. Her mind still sluggish, she had no idea who would be in her home.
Until she entered the kitchen and saw her entire family.
“Hey,” she spoke, drawing everyone’s attention.
“Sam.” Her mother stood, taking her by the hand. “You should have called out. One of us would have helped you out of bed.”
“I’ve been getting myself up for years. Why are you all in my kitchen?”
Her father stood, placing a cup of coffee in Sam’s shaky hand. “We’ve been here since yesterday. Do you remember anything?”
She looked down into the cup of black coffee, and was reminded of where she’d been. Dirt. Hands. Terror. “I was in the art room. Andrew brought me water.” She looked to her father as it all came crashing back inside her mind. “You held me, Dad.”
“All of it.” Every gut wrenching grueling moment of it and remembering made her stomach churn.
“How do you feel?”
Her father led her to the chair, and Sam hated the way her family was looking at her. “Like I’ve been caught up in a tornado and twisted into tiny pieces. Did you all spend the night here?”
“Yep, I got the floor, Colleen got the couch, Mom and Dad took the spare room.” Andrew walked to his sister, kissing the top of her head. “Don’t ever scare me like that again, okay.”
“Deal.” Then she was hugged by her sister. “Hey, I’m not dying, I just…blacked out.” And all this attention was making her feel awkward.
“What you had, sweetheart was an out of body experience, which is very different from just blacking out.” Her father set a plate of steaming French toast in front of her before lifting her chin in his hand. “Now eat, you need your strength.”
Frowning, she cut into the thick juicy toast. “Don’t you all have jobs to go to or lives to live?” She didn’t much care for the royal pamper treatment. It meant she was weak, and she was anything but.
“It’s the weekend,” Colleen added as she refilled everyone’s cup of coffee.
“Right, well, you don’t need to waste it by staying with me.” Sam stood, and like hungry wolves, her family was right on her.
“What do you need?” her mother asked.
“Coffee, juice?” Andrew stood to retrieve both.
“More syrup?” Colleen offered.
“No, no, nothing. Damn it! Ah...!” She sat back down shoving her face in her hands. “Look, I don’t want to seem ungrateful. I appreciate everything you did, but if you don’t stop smothering me I’m going to scream. I need air.”
“All right, dear. Your father, brother and I will go and get you some groceries. What you have in this house is pathetic. Cold pizza.” Her mother shook her head. “Colleen will stay here and clean up.”
“Mom, I can do it myself. I’ll be just fine.” She didn’t need her sister cleaning up for her, or babysitting her.
“I know. Colleen, make sure she drinks her juice. She needs the fluids. Come on boys.”
The house became silent as her parents and brother left. Sitting at the table, Sam eyed her sister. “You can go you know. I’m not an invalid.”
Colleen sat down at the table, fussing with the cloth in her hand. “You think I want the wrath of Mom coming after me if I left you alone? I would rather have thorns shoved up my nails. Here,” She laid Ethan’s watch on the table. “I figured you wouldn’t want mom and dad questioning you on who it belonged to.”
She looked up at her sister. “This is where you lecture me on sleeping with a married man, right?”
Colleen stood, carrying dishes to the dishwasher. “It’s your life, Sam. How you chose to live it is none of my business.”
“It was the first time, and it’ll be our last time,” Sam stated with sadness in her voice.
“You don’t have to justify or explain it to me, Sam.” She continued placing dishes in the dishwasher.
“I’m in love with him, and I think he’s in love with me.”
Colleen turned in shock. “Oh, Sam.”
“We can’t be together. I told him that last—well, the other night, whenever it was. Will you take this to him, please?” She held up the watch, the longer she had it the more difficult it would be for her.
Nodding, Colleen took the watch, tucked it back in her skirt pocket. “I’m so sorry.”
“Me too. I need a shower.” Her eyes tearing up, Sam left the room.
It took everything she had not to yell at her family and tell them to get out, but Sam refrained. She knew they were worried about her, but their concern was beginning to smother her. Escaping to her art room, Sam noticed someone had set up her computer.
Great, she could work! Research might be just what she needed to keep her mind occupied and off of a certain person who kept sneaking into her heart and mind.
Someone had set up the dry board in her art room and marked the bells on the list. She couldn’t remember telling anyone about the bells, but then she supposed she had to have, if they’d written it on the board.
She turned to the sketch she’d drawn of the hands breaking through the dirt, though the memory of that was also patchy. It hurt! How could looking at a drawing, hurt? Yet it did. Closing her eyes, Sam turned away. What she needed was to focus, to center herself on what was important.
Her mind drifted to Ethan and her heart ached. She did her best to push it away and work past it, though it wasn't easy. Among the pain of the dead was the softness Ethan had given her.
Flexing her fingers, the knuckles cracking with the pressure, she began to work.
She’d heard bells, endlessly ringing, piercing her eardrums, drowning out the children’s voices. They’d been calling to her, but she couldn’t hear their voices because of the bells. Was that a clue? Were they murdered while those bells rang? And what sort of bells were they? What places had bells? Schools? No, it hadn’t sounded like a school bell. Church bells? Maybe, possibly. If so, was there a church nearby that would be loud enough to drown out the screams of children while they had atrocities executed upon them. She needed to research that.
Giving her neck a roll, Sam began typing madly on her keyboard, searching, and finally finding a list of websites focusing on local churches popped up. “Bingo!”
“Onto a lead?”
Sam swiveled in her chair to meet her father’s gaze. “Hopefully. Where is everyone?” And please say they went home.
“Watching a movie. I told them I would come in and check on you this time.” He entered the room, gave a passing glance at the sketch as he walked to Sam. Kissing the top of her head, he sighed. “We’ll get out of your hair soon enough, but either Colleen or Andrew will spend the night and before you open your mouth to argue, let me tell you how worried they are about you—”
“They don’t need to be.” She let out a long sigh when her father gave her a knowing look. “Fine, I guess I can handle one person bugging me.”
“Good. Tell me what you’re working on here.” He tapped the monitor and the long list on the screen.
“My mind was just rambling and I thought: where would there be bells? A church maybe? So I decided to do a search for all the local churches.”
“Andrew and I were on the same lines. We were going to look into it for you, but decided to wait.”
She narrowed her eyes. “I’m fine, Dad, really.”
He touched her cheek, lovingly. “No, you’re not. You’re just determined not to let it show. It’s not a shame to need help once and a while, Sam, nor is it defeat to admit you’re wiped. It’s okay to lean once and a while.”
With a wry smile, Sam leaned on his shoulder. “I know when to lean.”
He stroked her hair. “You have a lot going on in your life right now, Sammy girl. This.” He tapped the screen. “Your career as an artist is skyrocketing, and…” he lifted her chin. “You’re in love with a married man.”
“I am going to kill Colleen.”
“She didn’t tell me, sweetheart.” He tapped a finger on her nose. “You just did.”
“That was dirty, Dad.”
“I’m a parent. I’m allowed to play dirty.” Then he sighed. “All I’ve ever wanted for my children is for them to be healthy, happy, and successful in whatever they choose to do with their lives. I wanted for them the happiness I found with your mother. I don’t want to see you hurt.”
“Too late.” She looked to her father and couldn’t hide the sadness she was feeling. “I’ll manage everything in my life, Dad, not to worry. Right now, I need to focus on this case. Everything else takes second place.” She turned back to her computer, not ready to discuss her heartache with her father. “These children need me, and I don’t intend to let them down.”“Then why don’t I give you a hand wading through all of this mess.” He slid a little closer, putting his arm over the back of her chair. “Let’s see what we’ve got.”