My latest tale of horror and mystery is a novella coming June 30. It's a shorter noel, just over 40,000 words. and tells the tale of a young girl who mysteriously vanishes into thin air. Two detectives are assigned the case, determined to find her and certain it's a kidnapping and murder. However, as they start to search, the truth reveals itself and the horror behind this vanishing is revealed.
You can pre-order The Cut-Through for just 99 cents right now. It will arrive on your Kindle or Kindle app on June 30. Below is the opening scene from this terrifying tale.
“Come on, Ashley!” Mary Dent called up the stairs for the millionth time. “You’ll be late. Josh and Tim will be here any minute and if you’re not down here, I’ll tell them to go on without you. I don’t want them to be late because you can’t pick an outfit.”
“I’m almost done!” the protesting cry of her young pre-teen daughter floated down from th
e second floor. “Just relax.”
“Don’t tell me to relax, young lady,” Mary replied, but she hid a smile. Since her daughter had started to drift toward her teenage years, she behaved more like she was eightee
n. The sass had started almost the very day of her tenth birthday and had not let up since. “You’re not too old for me to ground for a month.”
Ashley groaned so loud Mary clearly heard it downstairs, then she followed the sound with a sort of growl. This was her exasperated voice, which she had honed over the past six months since her last birthday. Mary was pretty sure she spent time on YouTube studying how to increase it for maximum drama and impact.
Mary shook her head as she passed back to the kitchen. She double checked the lunch she had packed and made sure Ashley’s backpack had everything in it which needed to be there. Just as she had completed her inspection, she heard feet scamper down the stairs.
Ashley had decided on a red top, blue jeans and pink sneakers. Her red hair was done up in braids which wrapped around her head like a kind of crown. She smiled when she entered the kitchen, the freckles sprayed across her cheeks became more defined as she did so. Mary returned the smile (it was hard not to) and handed her daughter a small plate with two pieces of toast.
“I thought Josh and Tim were almost here,” she said with a smirk. Oh, this one would be real trouble in her teenage years.
“Shut up and eat,” Mary said, but grinned.
Just then John Dent walked into the kitchen, still doing up the collar of his shirt. He smiled when he saw his family and patted Ashley on the head. He won’t be allowed to do that much longer, Mary mused to herself, taking the final sips from her mug of coffee.
“How’s my family this morning?” John asked.
“Mom lied to me,” Ashley replied mournfully. “The end of her innocence right there. The death of mine as a result.”
John poured himself a cup of coffee from the pot. “My goodness, I had no idea such soap opera-level drama was happening in my kitchen. Plus, I think your mom’s innocence died a long time ago, hun.”
“Hey, watch it. With your daughter these days, it’s always drama and I don’t need you adding to it,” Mary said, then kissed John firmly on the lips. They had been frolicking in bed just about an hour and a half before. “Are you going to be late tonight?”
John shook his head. “Shouldn’t be. Ash, do you want me to give you and your friends a ride to school?”
Ashley rolled her eyes. “It’s a block away when you take the cut-through, dad. No. It’s embarrassing.”
John mocked offense. “Forgive your father for wanting to spend time with you and make sure you’re safe.”
Ashley rolled her eyes anew. This had turned into a new and perpetual pattern. The eye rolling had reached epic dimensions, as if her parents had suddenly, almost overnight, become the two stupidest people in the world.
The Dents lived in a small subdivision off a busy road and across the street from a large forest preserve. Just two roads into the clusters of townhomes grouped into foursomes. One road curved through the neighborhood with entrances to the busy highway-like avenue and one short street which shot off from that one into a cul-de-sac. The school was behind this subdivision and since there was just one road in and out, someone at some point had built a small grassy cut-through from this area to the street on the other side. Across this street was the school. The cut-through was all grass, barely twenty yard long, barely ten feet wide, between two backyards of the homes on the street behind the subdivision and lined by tall wooden fences the entire way.
Most of the time, one parent walked with the kids. Today, Mary had a meeting downtown, as did John, and they had trusted Tim and Josh before. Josh was twelve and a few grades above Ashley, but Tim was the same age. Drop-offs at school was always busy, with dozens of other parents. The kids would be by themselves for barely five minutes if they stopped for some reason.
The sky was bright and blue. School had only just started up again. Summer still clung to the trees, the air was thick with humidity.
There was nothing to worry about.
Mary finished her coffee and glanced at her watch. She had to get a move on if she would make it downtown. She quickly rinsed out her cup, placed it in the sink, then grabbed her purse.
“You be nice to Josh and Tim,” Mary admonished her daughter. “And you come straight home after school. You’ve got that math test to study for.”
“I know, mother,” Ashley replied as if Mary were the dumbest person who had ever spoken. “Who gives a math test this early in the year, anyway?”
“Mr. Cliffton,” Mary replied. She dashed past Ashley, then returned to kiss the top of her daughter’s hair, the sunlight causing Ashley’s red hair to blaze in its brightness. “Be good. I love you.”
Ashley muttered a reply. Mary turned to John who was also getting ready to leave. She kissed him, let the kiss linger just a bit.
“See you later,” she said.
John smiled. “Hope so.”
“Love you, too.”
Mary bolted out the door, never once looking back, her mind already on the drive and her meeting.
She wouldn’t see Ashley again for days. At least, not appearing as she had the morning she left for her meeting.
Mary arrived back home just after six, feeling hot and sweaty. The air conditioning in her car wasn’t working as it should and this summer had been rough. She wanted to kick off her shoes, slip into more comfy clothes and get a glass of wine.
Mary entered the home, then got step one taken care of by kicking off her heels into the corner by the front door. She basked for a moment in the air conditioning, allowing her skin to cool. It was while she did this she realized the house was quiet.
Ashley had been told repeatedly to do her homework in her room, but she preferred to do it in the family room at the rear of the house in front of the television with the sound up way too loud. Despite this, her daughter did well in school, so Mary didn’t press the issue. Even when Ashley decided she needed the quiet of her room, it wasn’t really quiet since she blasted her music at ear-splitting levels.
The house was quiet. The phrase rolled around in her head like a marble looking for a place to land.
“Ash?” she called.
No response. Most of the time there was so much activity in the house she never had the chance to see just how vast the building could be. Only at moments when she was home alone did she listen and hear her own voice echo through the floors, up the stairs, and around back into her own ears.
“Ashley?” she tried again.
Still no reply.
Mary’s frown deepened. Dammit, she thought, the rebelliousness continued apparently. Mary checked her watch. Ashley should have been home at least two hours ago. She had been very explicit about her daughter coming home, staying home, getting her homework done. Perhaps, just perhaps, Ashley had finished her homework and gone out to visit friends. This wasn’t entirely against the rule Mary had set for her. More than likely, she admitted to herself, Ashley had walked home with Tim and Josh or at least one of them and gone back to a house to play video games.
“Dammit, Ash,” Mary whispered.
Mary walked into the kitchen and got a glass of water. With glass in hand, she wandered next into the family room. The room was undisturbed, looking exactly as it had when she had left in the morning. More frowning followed as she walked upstairs to check Ashley’s room. The bed was pristine, no backpack. No sign Ashley had been there. So, she had not come home at all.
“Goddammit,” Mary cursed under her breath.
This was one of those moments she dreaded. Did she become the evil mom, call around to Ashley’s friends and potentially embarrass her daughter demanding she come home? She knew her daughter was testing her. Pushing the boundaries of the rules to see how far she could stretch into her own world as she got older, found her own identity and became her own person. Mary felt a pain her heart, although she had known it was coming for some time now.
Ashley was smart and always had developed faster than others of her age. At the same time, this was a key moment where Mary had to establish some rules for her daughter to follow as she went into her teenage years.
She had instructed Ashley to get home and do her homework. Evidence showed Ashley had not done so.
Bad mom it was.
Who should she call? Mary mulled this as she walked back down the stairs and into the kitchen. As she deposited her empty glass in the sink, she decided it would be best to call Tim’s home first. Although Ashley was friends with Tim and Josh, it was Tim who was the same age and shared the same classes. If her daughter was more likely to be hanging out with one of the kids nearby, it was Timothy.
Mary fished into her purse and pulled out her cell. It took a moment for her to find the number, but she hit the button, put the phone to her ear and hoped Ashley would not have a fit. The last thing she needed was the temper tantrums her daughter was likely to give at times. The last vestiges of being a little kid which she held on to, much to Mary’s annoyance.
“Hi, Joyce, it’s Mary,” she said when the woman at the other end answered. “Is Ashley there?”
The reply was quick, but disturbing.
“Did she come home with Tim and Josh? Do you know?” was the follow up question.
There was a reply. Joyce called out to someone off the mic. Mary couldn’t hear Tim’s reply.
When Joyce came back, Mary felt the first pang of fear.
Preorder The Cut-Through at Amazon today for just 99 cents.