**This is an unedited, unproofed, first draft excerpt from Of Blood and Bone. I don’t normally share my work while it’s in this stage, but hey—it’s Halloween**
“You’re thinking about him aren’t you?” Abigail asked her.
From the back seat, Madelyn glanced into the rearview mirror at her dark haired fraternal twin and shrugged with more nonchalance than she’d thought she had available. They were complete opposites in nearly every conceivable way save their shared snowy white complexion. Abigail had black hair and vivid blue eyes; Madelyn had red hair so dark it seemed unnatural to those who didn’t know her and eyes as green as a Frasier fir.
At Madelyn’s right sat Andrew Beaumont, a wealthy friend of Abigail’s, who reeked of overpriced Bourbon and Cigars. But, for what he lacked in temperance and good looks, he made up for in wit and friendly charm. “And the drama begins, he who?”
The corners of Drew’s mouth lifted to form a boyish grin as he awaited her response and for a moment, with the way the shadows played upon his sharp features and lean build, he almost passed for handsome.
Madelyn lifted a brow where only her sister could see it. “No one, she’s messing with me because I’m too drunk to fight back.” Drew wasn’t really her date and while there was no fear of hurting his feelings, he was friends with more than Abigail: He was friends with Avery Colburn—the very he her sister was referring to.
The road ahead of them on this hot 4th of July night was a blurred strip of pale ribbon beneath a vast and starless sky. It was almost as if the headlights of Madelyn’s old 4-runner illuminated all that was left of creation, as if the world as they knew it vanished at the edge of the sulfurous lights, leaving only the inky depths of nothingness beyond. It reminded her of childhood, of all the sticky summer nights she’d spent on her porch listening to the Katydids’ incessant cries and peering into the pitch black wood line, imagining what grim and wondrous creatures were gyrating in the darkness and in turn peering back at her.
Drew tilted his head to catch Madelyn’s eye. “My God, she’s not talking about Avery?”
It was too dark for him to have seen it, but Madelyn’s cheeks flushed at the mere sound of his name. Avery was a casual friend she’d known for years through his professional acquaintance with Abigail. He was a well-revered neurologist, an unrealistically compassionate humanitarian and unfortunately, he was married to the most beautiful woman she’d ever seen. Still, it hadn’t kept his smile from making her feel like a lovesick teenager every time she ran into him. Because she considered herself to be somewhat moral, she’d always felt guilty for her unrequited attraction to him, but at the end of the day she had no choice in the matter. It wasn’t like it was something she’d ever act on.
“It is Avery, isn’t it? You have feelings for him?” Drew asked, louder this time.
Madelyn shoved her elbow hard enough into his side to elicit a scowl. “Stop it. I already said she’s just messing with me. Why would you even mention him?”
Before he could answer, Abigail turned in her seat, just long enough to reach for something in her husband’s possession and fail to retrieve it. Mason had passed out long before the party had ended and in consideration of his generous size, it was a miracle they’d been able to get him in the vehicle at all. He lay sideways with his head settled into the narrow crook between the window and his seat, his neck craned towards the rear at an awkward angle.
“Christ!” Madelyn yelped. “You’re going to get us all killed.” She unfastened her seatbelt and leaned forward. “What do you need?”
“I think I hear his phone vibrating. It’s in his pants—“
Drew laughed. “At least one of us is getting some action tonight. Lucky bastard.”
“—his pants pocket.”
Madelyn spared Drew a faint grin before bracing herself with one arm on Abigail’s seat and reaching toward Mason with the other.
“In all seriousness Andrew,” Abigail smirked, “it’s no mystery why you’re single.”
A slight bump in the road wedged Madelyn’s hip between the passenger seat and the console.
“Are you okay?” Abigail and Drew both asked.
Madelyn groaned, “Yeah.”
“I mention him because of the way he looks at you.” Drew’s tone was low, weighted by something Madelyn couldn’t discern. It wasn’t jealousy, amusement maybe? Whatever it was, it struck her as odd. In the ensuing lull in their conversation she heard the distinct rhythmic sound of his engraved Zippo lighter as he flipped it open and shut. Clink…clink…clink. Like an automaton, he would pull it from his jacket whenever he was either bored or anxious; he probably didn’t even realize he was doing it.
“What’s it to you?” After forcing her midsection from the crevice, Madelyn re-stabilized herself and went for Mason’s pants a second time, where it took her a few moments to find the phone. She had it halfway out of his pocket and was about to note out loud that she didn’t think it was even turned on, when the air around her grew thick and humid.
“Don’t answer her. She said she didn’t want to talk about it.” Abigail touched Madelyn’s back, her hands ice cold from the air conditioning. It was the closest thing to an apology she was capable of. “Besides Drew, it’s none of your business.”
The baby fine hair on Madelyn’s arms moved then, as if someone were running their fingers over her skin, while moist heat swept in a steady pant, like hot breath, over the flesh of her exposed collarbone.
“You brought it up,” Drew scoffed. Clink … clink … clink.
Madelyn resisted the urge to whimper and drew her right arm back, ready to push herself upright, when the panting became a distorted, child-like whisper in her ear.
You can close your eyes, but it won’t help …
Clink … clink … clink
The last thing Madelyn saw before impact was the flicker of the dashboard clock, the shift of the luminescent green numbers as they marked the time as 3:33 am.
Twelve Months Later …
“You know, as a kid I hated sharing my birthday with a holiday, but now I kind of like it. It makes it special. Have I ever told you that?” Valerie Colburn leaned against the kitchen counter in their palatial home, clad in satin the color of midnight, her chestnut hair fastened into a messy ponytail. It made a nice contrast to her warm complexion and on any other day, Avery held a healthy appreciation for it: This day, however, a year exactly since the wreck that had buried Mason Hewitt and put Madelyn Sedgwick in a coma, he didn’t have a single ounce of patience for her usual self-indulgence.
He couldn’t wrap his head around her thought process—how could she possibly be thinking of anything else? Every single day since, he’d asked himself; how might things have been different had he postponed the party till Friday, when the roads would have been safer?
He lifted his hazel eyes from the newspaper article that had been printed in memoriam of the event, to see a slight smile brighten Valerie’s otherwise blank expression. It wasn’t that she didn’t have emotions or intelligence, on the contrary, she had them in spades: She’d graduated alongside him at Harvard, could have gone on to medical school had she wanted to. What Valerie lacked was ambition. Though, it’s not like she’d ever needed it.
“No, you haven’t,” Avery muttered.
Valerie’s smile fell dim as she sauntered to the table where he sat. She stood to his left in silence for a moment, her bare hip propped against the side of his chair, before the idea struck her to pick up his coffee mug and lift it to her lips. She scowled as soon as she tasted it, like she’d expected his habits to have somehow changed miraculously overnight.
He took the mug back and set it down, this time farther from her reach. “I drink it straight, remember?”
Not only did he drink it straight, he drank it instant. He found comfort in the turbid, uncomplicated brew, much to his peers’ chagrin. At some point in his past he’d tried to conform, but he simply couldn’t comprehend or appreciate the endless combinations of milk and syrup that everyone else mistook for coffee.
Valerie briefly toyed with the collar of his threadbare robe. “Are you going by the hospital this afternoon?”
“Are you still insisting we have guests this evening?”
She softly exhaled and though her hands were now loosely clasped in front of her, she was clearly on the defense. “You aren’t the only one who shoulders blame for what happened. But like it or not, it’s my birthday. What good does it do them for us to sit around tonight feeling sorry for ourselves? I was hoping that it would cheer you up a little.”
Avery took his glasses off and rubbed his eyes, irritated that his allergy medicine didn’t seem to be working anymore. He didn’t feel sorry for himself. He felt for Madelyn. What her family called life, was nowhere near what quantified as a meaningful existence in his eyes. In a way, it was almost worse than being on life support. She was stuck between this world and the next, unable to cross over one way or the other. How long she would remain in a coma was anyone’s guess, but if the tests were any indication of her future, she was never going to wake up.
“You feel guilty Val, really? Or are you saying that to justify celebrating on this particular night when any other night in the next week or so would do?”
“I had the guest rooms prepared. No one is leaving this house tonight, whether they drink or not. Isn’t that the issue here? Safety? Don’t take this out on me. Yes, I mean it. Just like I mean everything else I say. You’ve just stopped listening.”
He couldn’t help himself. He didn’t want to laugh, but the way she’d unconsciously reached for her purse as she spoke and checked her wallet to make sure the American Express card was in it, sort of trumped any sense of regret her guilt trip was supposed to cause him. “All right, sweetheart. I’m sorry. Point noted. Maybe it will cheer me up. I assume you’re going shopping this afternoon?”
She almost looked insulted, as if she actually cared whether he thought she was shallow or not. For the record, she didn’t: He couldn’t recall the last time she’d initiated sex. It didn’t matter what he did or said, how many roses or cards he brought home, not matter how many surprise vacations he planned or expensive jewelry he gave her; it was never enough. He was never enough.
“After I get dressed, yes. Don’t worry, you won’t even miss me.” She blew him an insincere kiss before tucking her purse beneath her arm. “Be here, ready, by 7.”
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world.” His grin matched her insincerity and then some and yet as he watched her leave the room, sorrow pulled at him. He could remember a time when he’d thought their relationship more than the sum total of their family’s wealth, when it had felt like more than a union born of old money and societal pressure. He’d loved her once he was sure of it—or had been anyway. He wasn’t sure of anything anymore.
He stood and was half turned with the intention of searching the pantry for breakfast, when he noticed the edge of something tucked partially beneath the newspaper. Whatever it was it must have fallen out of Valerie’s purse as she was digging for her wallet. In one fluid motion he swept the paper aside and picked up the unremarkable silver lighter.
“Have you been here all night?” Avery hadn’t necessarily expected Madelyn’s room to be empty at 9am, but once he saw Abigail it was obvious that she hadn’t just arrived.
She yawned as she nodded, accentuating the angry scar that ran from the right corner of her mouth to the line of her chin; the only noticeable remnant of the carnage, the countless glass shards they’d dislodged from her skin after the wreck.
Avery picked up her chart and glanced through the papers, eyeing for the thousandth time everything that had been recorded over the last 12 months; the CT scans, the blood work, the EKGs. After a moment he slid the folder back into the plastic bin in the door and went to Madelyn’s bedside.
Abigail rose and stood opposite of him. “She looks like she’s sleeping, doesn’t she?” She smoothed a section of Madelyn’s hair as it fanned out onto the pillow. The sun, as it threaded through the blinds, lit the red locks like strands of gold-speckled fire. “She was a summer smile with winter skin. My father used to say that to her all the time, while he was still alive.”
After looking at the monitors, he glanced down at Madelyn and without really thinking about it he reached out and brushed her pale cheek with his knuckles. Once he realized what he was doing, he pulled his hand away and steered his gaze back to the machines. “It’s more profound than sleep Abbie. There is no REM, no dreaming.” He checked her feeding tube and the IV in her arm, then started work on examining the level of atrophy in her muscles.
“How do you know it’s dreamless?”
“We encourage family and friends to talk to the patients, to see if familiar voices will trigger a reaction, anything really if there is a chance of improvement. But the reality is that she can’t hear us. Believe me, I want her to hear us. I want this to be one of those soap opera comas where she wakes up and just walks down the hall … no cognitive impairment, no rehabilitation, but that doesn’t happen in real life. I don’t want you to get your hopes up.” Avery’s throat swelled and his eyes burned.
“Dad used to read stories to us all the time,” Abigail held up a leather bound book. “I read to her everyday. Yesterday, she gripped my hand. She’s never done that before. It was probably just a reflex though, wasn’t it?”
“More than likely. Her PT said he’s seen her move her hands before. Which story were you reading?”
“She can’t hear it, so what difference does it make?” He could tell she hadn’t meant it as bitterly as it had come out. “That sounded—”
“It’s OK, I know. I was just curious.”
“Sleeping Beauty. It was always her favorite when we were kids.” Abigail bit down on her lower lip, not hard enough to draw blood, but enough to express her grief. “Listen, I’ve got to get some sleep. Thank you for checking in on her like this. Our family deeply appreciates it.”
“Anything your family ever needs, all you have to do is ask. You know that. Are you coming tonight?”
She was silent for a moment, then took a deep breath and shook her head. “I don’t know, it’s—”
“Not a good idea for you to be by yourself tonight. Your mother’s still out of town isn’t she?”
“I’m a big girl Avery. I can take care of myself.”
“What harm can it do? Tell you what, come and if you feel like being alone there are plenty of places you can hide out for the rest of the night and you have my word, no one will bother you. It would make me feel a lot better if you weren’t alone.”
She closed her eyes, exhaling, “Okay. What time?”
She picked her purse up from beside the chair and fished her keys from the contents. “I’ll see you at seven then.”
The door closed with a soft click and brought his attention from the heart monitor, back to Madelyn. He waited just a moment, listening to Abigail’s footsteps fade as she left the coma wing, before he sat down. He unconsciously braced his weight with his hands as he settled onto the mattress, as if he might wake her. Even now, even after so much time had passed since the accident, he still felt connected to her; perhaps more so now than before.
It wasn’t just his attraction to her. He’d always thought she was beautiful, breathtakingly so, but they’d met the night before his wedding. Madelyn had just moved to the area and didn’t know anyone, so Abigail brought her to the rehearsal dinner as her date. They’d all gone out to celebrate afterwards and eventually Valerie went off with her bridesmaids, which included Abbie, leaving Madelyn on her own. Avery had stopped drinking long before final call at the bar and offered to drive her home. What was supposed to be a quick fifteen minute drive turned into four hours and the most meaningful conversation he’d ever had.
It wasn’t cold feet. He hadn’t given two seconds to whether he should marry Valerie or not, but the lack of consideration hadn’t had anything to do with how deeply he cared for her, not at that point in their relationship. He simply hadn’t considered life without her. Their fathers were college roommates at Harvard; her father, a lawyer who’d worked for everything he’d ever had, and Avery’s, a physician and descendant of the Colburn oil fortune. Avery and Valerie had been told they were going to be married since they were old enough to walk.
But that night, even at the bar, Madelyn had made an irrevocable impression on him. She held herself, not with the inherited dignity of growing up well off or the forced pride of a childhood bereft of luxuries, but with the natural poise and grace of undeniable strength. He’d kissed her that night, in the shadowed sanctuary of her porch. He’d never told anyone about it, not even his older brother who he usually shared everything with and he was certain Madelyn hadn’t spoken of it either. It was fire and ice, bringing madness and sanity and everything in between. He’d never experienced anything like it, not before or since and the very memory of it made him wonder what might have been.
In a strange way it was that kiss that brought him, now, to her bedside. He had dreamed of her off and on throughout the years, but since the accident the dreams had changed: They were no longer fleeting images or vague, meaningless, remembrances. He woke in cold sweats, heart thrumming in his breast, hearing echoes of her voice as she screamed out to him in both fear and suffering. Last night’s didn’t seem to be an exception until he found himself standing with her on the porch of her old house. She wasn’t screaming any more or out of reach. In fact, when he took her into his arms it felt fated, real—almost to the point where he questioned if he were asleep or not. Tears filled her eyes and spilled down her cheeks as if she’d been there, waiting for him, all this time. He lowered to catch her mouth and after a long, tender kiss, she was the one who broke away. A sob caught in her throat as she took his face in her hands, her fingers as frigid as ice on his skin. He woke with her whispered, heartbroken words ringing in his ears.
Don’t open the door … please … it’s too late for me …
Madelyn screamed as the image of Avery faded, leaving her to sink to her knees, alone, on the cold cement of the porch. She held her arms tightly against her chest and looked out into the yard. Despite her blurry vision, she could see them as they moved in the shadows, the reddish orange glow that lit the billowing smoke stacks of the factories like great spirals of fire on the horizon, and heard the constant hum of machinery in the distance. Without turning around, she braced her hand against the brick wall where her front door had once been.
“Why?” she sobbed. “Why are you doing this?”
There would be no answer. There never was. There was only darkness and suffering.
A quiet little voice, British-sounding, caught Madelyn by surprise, “Did they send you here?”
The girl’s deathly pale features came into view as she crept around the corner. Her small dark eyes, unnaturally without whites, darted beyond them to the street.
“Yes,” Madelyn said. “It’s alright, you can come out. I think we’re safe here.”
“Where is this place?” Heather asked.
Madelyn reached for the girl and tucked her under her arm once she’d curled up close enough. “I used to live here, a long time ago.” She smoothed the girl’s long blond hair. Her name wasn’t really Heather, but since the girl couldn’t remember her real name, they’d chosen the new one together. “Do you remember where you used to live? Where you were before you came here?”
“No, but I remember my mum. She was sweet like you, and wore red lipstick. There was a boy too, but I don’t know his name. Could’ve been my brother perhaps. I’ve been here so long, it’s hard to remember.”
That thought chilled her to her core and brought more tears to sting her eyes.
“I’ve made you sad.” Heather reached up and wiped at Madelyn’s cheeks.
Madelyn hugged the girl tighter. “It’s all right.”
“Who was that man?”
“You saw him too?”
“I did. Handsome, he was. Is he your boyfriend?”
“No, just a friend.”
Heather giggled. “Didn’t look like a friend to me. He kissed you. What’s it like? To kiss a boy? I’d think it’d be rather gross.”
All Madelyn could feel then, was the tenderness in Avery’s kiss—the sincerity—and that, perhaps more than anything else yet, broke her heart the most. “It’s wonderful.”
“I’ll never know what that’s like, will I?” Heather asked.
Madelyn sternly gripped the girl’s chin and lifted her face. “I don’t want to hear you talk like that. We’re going to get out of here, I promise,” her voice cracked with emotion. “Do you hear me? I promise. We won’t be trapped here forever.”
“Can I come home with you? Will you take care of me?”
“Of course, of course.” Madelyn kissed the top of Heather’s head. “We’ll fix a bedroom up for you, with whatever you want. Anything, just name it.”
Ominous whispering, like the sound of recorded voices being played backwards, suddenly echoed from somewhere beyond the street.
“It’s them. They’re coming,” Heather clutched Madelyn’s shirt in both hands and started to tremble, “and they sound hungry this time.”
**OK, here’s the deal…the game they play at the party, The Eighth Sin (a play on the seven deadly sins), opens the “door” that Madelyn was referring to and ushers them into a world of unimaginable horror (I kid you not … it rains glass flakes), where secrets will be revealed, alliances destroyed, and an alternate reality unveiled…should be fun! I’d say it’s the first dark fantasy I’ve ever written, but I think there are some peeps who’ve read Son of Ereubus who might disagree with me there.**