Run is on sale today! Today through 12/24 you can get Run for $0.99. Also Stand will be released on 1/2/2015! I can't believe it is almost here. It has been such a journey to get to this point. I am kinda amazed that I am even at this point. I'm a published author! With another book on the way! This is the greatest thing ever.
I included the first two chapters of Run. Enjoy!!
It’s ironic really, the chain of events that led me here, kneeling in the dirt with a gun to my head.
My tale of woe, if I can be so bold as to call it that, started innocently enough. It started with spelling words and dinner.
As a student I was smart, but a horrible speller. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, my mother was a school teacher. In order to get me through my spelling test every week she worked with me every night. While I sat at the table working on my assigned words, she watched the news and made dinner. This was by far, the least favorite part of my day. I sat at the kitchen table wanting to be outside or really just about anywhere else. I wrote out my words for the week ten times each, used them in a sentence, and then tested myself with flashcards.
Certain, certain, certain. I am certain I do not want to be doing this. However, however, however. However, I don’t have a choice.
“Earlier today, police responded to a call in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Children playing at a local park discovered …” The newscaster’s voice droned on in the background.
Balance, balance, balance. What sentence could I use for balance? The seal balanced a ball on his nose. Stupid, but it would work.
“… the body of an unidentified female adolescent …”
My attention was caught. Spelling words forgotten.
“…sources say the victim was raped and tortured before she was murdered. Her body was mutilated. Police are asking that anyone…”
What? A strange feeling twisted in my stomach. The words of the newscaster left me feeling unsettled. I knew something bad had happened. For the first time in my life the world felt scary. It left me shaken. Why would someone kill a girl?
“I don’t get it, Mom, what happened?”
Once my mom realized I was talking about the story on the news, the television was quickly turned off.
“Charlotte Marshall, are you done with your spelling words? No? Then worry about finishing them.” My mom scolded.
I knew I wasn’t really in trouble because my mom hadn’t used my middle name. I also knew she wasn’t going to talk about the news story. I looked down at the papers spread before me, but I didn’t see them anymore. My mind whirled. Instinctively, I knew there was something different about this news story. The unknown girl stuck in my head.
Chapter 1: March 14, 7:00 a.m. – March 15, 11:30 p.m.
20 years later
Beep, beep, beep. I swatted blindly for my alarm clock. Morning is not my best time of day. Every morning at seven, it’s always the same routine. I hit the snooze button several times until the whining of my dog reminds me to get up, be a responsible pet owner, and let poor Max out. Fifteen minutes later, wearing sweats and a hoodie, I greet the morning with a grumble and my dog at my side.
Max is a great dog. Two years ago, I went to the shelter with a vague idea of what I wanted: something big, something sweet, and something that wouldn’t eat my nine-year-old calico. I found Max. He was sitting in the far corner of his cage. I watched several people approach him – he never even looked at them. A mix of Pit Bull and mutt, Max is a handsome, mid-sized dog – black with dark eyes and a white patch on his chest. Now, I often think Max has a sixth sense, and he knew me when I walked up to his cage. He seems to know things about people or places. When I crouched down and talked to him, his tail gave a quick wave, and he turned to look at me from his corner. In those big brown eyes, I saw a friend for life. I fell in love. A week later, I brought him home from the shelter. He has rarely left my side since.
That morning, just like every morning, Max was energetic and eager to walk and play. Much more eager than I was. Not only am I not a morning person, but this particular week I felt the pressure of my current book contract. I had two published books, both doing moderately well. Now with a contract for my third novel, I felt a little overwhelmed. This next book needed to be good. Consequently, I was far behind where I expected to be. I had started and rejected multiple stories; now my agent was expecting several chapters to review and I had nothing to show her. As Max and I walked back to my condo, my thoughts were scattered. I had too many alternate story scenarios swirling in my head. I had to get writing done today. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a clue what exactly I should write about.
Back inside, Max settled down next to me and Kitty, my calico, perched on my lap. Kitty is truly a horrible name for a cat. Like Max, she was a rescue. By the time she came to me, Kitty already knew her name. Consequently, I am stuck with a cat with the most embarrassing name ever. Embarrassing name or not, Kitty is my baby. Placing her on my lap, I started writing that next great book by staring resolutely at my computer screen. This was it, I told myself. Today was the day. I wasn’t moving until I had a story started. Three hours later the cursor blinking from a blank page mocked me. I had nothing.
I wasted time writing things that wouldn’t go anywhere. The story about the mermaid who wanted to be human – already done. A boy discovers something magical living under his bed. Yeah, I seriously am not destined to be a children’s writer. Pathetic. Ohh, I know a good one. I’ll write about a western school teacher, who does what, teaches? No good. I justified my pathetic ideas by telling myself that at least I was writing. In truth I had nothing. My day wasn’t totally wasted. I organized my shoes, watered my plants, okay my one plant, and I called my BFF. By three, I hadn’t written a single usable word.
Then it came to me.
To be honest, I am not sure what gave me the idea. One minute I was staring at a blank screen, the next I was typing away. The words flowed. I remembered this news story from when I was young, a news story that had stuck with me all of this time. A story that was shocking and sick and made me realize the world wasn’t safe. A young girl murdered, raped, tortured, her nipple removed, and the murderer was never caught. The vague concept of a story started to form. Two hours later I had a prologue completed.
After a brief break, where I realized Max was dying to go outside, I reviewed what I had written and decided the story needed more detail. I dove into the Internet to research. I wanted to find out everything I could about a twenty-year-old murder.
By nine-thirty the next morning I was still searching. My Google skills had failed me. I couldn’t find anything about a murder in Camden County, New Jersey in the 1990s. It was like it never happened. I tried searching for murders of adolescent girls and did a broad search for all murders that were committed in Camden County during the years I was still in school. Still nothing. Frustrated, I was tempted to throw in the towel and rely on my imagination. I had to complete the story cooking in my mind. Something drove me to keep on. Something inside me wanted answers.
Then I stumbled onto a collection of websites that gave me more than I had bargained for. Not just one murder in one town, but the sites were listed by state, showing all unsolved murders. I found my girl. She was a sixteen-year-old girl, five feet and two inches tall, one hundred and three pounds, named Emily Carmichael. Emily. The site had her picture. Her innocent, brown eyes laughed out at me from my computer screen. Emily would have been thirty-three if she had lived. Just two years older than me. She was killed in May of 1992. Her killer had never been found.
I was shocked. I had gone looking for details about the murder that I vaguely remembered. It was just a story to me; nameless and faceless. What I found was a girl. It wasn’t just a story anymore. My story had a name and a face. I found myself studying her picture, memorizing her dark hair and eyes. She looked so young and innocent. Emily. The opposite of me in many ways, but I felt connected to her. I can’t explain it. But the fact that I remembered her news story from when I was a child and the fact that I was now looking at her face made this feel personal. I had to know more.
Hours later I sat back in my seat, shocked. Emily wasn’t alone.
I had expected to find unsolved murders. What I didn’t expect was all of the lost girls. Girls just like Emily. When I had typed “unsolved murder New Jersey” into the search engine I did not expect the list of victims to contain so many young girls. I couldn’t help but feel the need to find out more about them all. Emily was one of many. I had to find out what had happened to all of these girls.
The ringing of my phone made me jump. I had been totally focused. But the annoying “Droid” ring of my phone is nearly impossible to ignore. In a move totally against my character, I picked up my cell from beside me and answered without even looking at the caller ID. I always look. That shows how focused I had been on those murders.
“Char, how are you sweetie? I wanted to make sure we were still on for dinner tonight?” My mother, as usual, did not pause to hear my answer, but got straight to the point. In other words, her call was an important motherly reminder. It was her tone that said I better be a good daughter and remember our dinner tonight.
In truth, I had forgotten. I was so buried in the world of Emily that time and the outside world had ceased to exist. My mother’s voice intruding in those thoughts felt shocking. Her tone jolted me back to reality. I glanced at the clock. It was five-fifteen. Close, but I could still get ready and be at the restaurant by six.
“Of course I remembered Mom; I’m looking forward to it.” Lie, lie, lie, lie.
“All right darling, I’ll see you soon. Don’t forget to bring the casserole dish I gave you leftovers in. I need it for a potluck at church.”
“I won’t, Mom. See you soon.”
I hung up the phone. Looking back at the case files and faces still showing on the computer screen, my obsession seemed strange and macabre. I was embarrassed that I had spent the whole day researching the death of a girl I never knew. I rationalized that it gave me a working idea for my book. I saved my rough draft, and without thinking about why I did it, I saved my internet searches, closed down my computer, and started to get ready.
At six on the dot I was at the restaurant, clean casserole dish in hand, wearing mom-approved clothing of a casual pink skirt, tank, cardigan, and flip-flops. I spotted my mother sitting at a table dressed in a beige button-down top and matching slacks. No matter when I meet her, she is always there first. Scanning me, her eyes disapproved. No matter what I wear, it is never the right outfit.
“Sweetheart, it is so good to see you wearing a nice bright color.” This was a subtle dig about my love for the color black. Right now, attired in a brightly colored pink skirt and matching tank and cardigan set, I am out of my comfort zone. But I did it for her.
My mother embraced me with the familiar scent of Gardenias. Her nails were tipped with the customary petal pink nail polish she always wears. Pink and Gardenias are my mother’s signatures. It’s one of the many things she does not understand about me. I’ve never had a signature anything. I’ve tried, but I always end up bored with one particular scent or color, except for black. I don’t wear black in a trendy, hipster sort of way. No, I just tend to avoid color. It’s neutral.
My mother pulled back with a cheery smile. She loves me dearly, she just doesn’t understand me, but then I don’t understand her, so I guess we are even. We both try, so that has to mean something.
When I was a child, I used to imagine that I was adopted and somewhere out there I had parents who were just like me: internal, moody, intellectual, thoughtful. Looking across the table, I wonder how I could have ever thought that. My mother and I look so much alike. There is no mistaking the family relationship – same light blond hair, same dark blue eyes, same oval face with unfortunate round cheeks, and the same mouth with full lips and a slight overbite. Main difference? My mom is petite and slender, and has never weighed more than one hundred and fifteen pounds – except when she was pregnant. I often feel like a giant next to her. I am only a few inches taller – but the difference between her one hundred and fifteen and my one-forty seems huge. If I say anything about my weight, my perfect mom is always happy to give me advice on losing it.
Over a dinner of pasta for me, what can I say I love carbs, and a light salad without dressing for her, we both tried to communicate around the landmines of differences between us. Politics, religion, emotions are all hot topics to avoid. So we stuck to general topics like cleaning. Apparently, vinegar will keep those pesky ants I get every year from bothering me. Who knew? In the midst of the polite conversation, I found myself wanting to talk to her about today, about Emily. Despite our differences she is my mom, and I felt the need to share what I found and how it captivated me.
“I wrote some for my book today.” It was an easy and innocent start.
“Oh, that’s lovely, I was sure you would have written soon.” A mother’s eternal optimism.
“Actually, my writing today reminded me of a news story from when I was little. Do you remember hearing about Emily Carmichael on the news? She was found in Cherry Hill. It’s such a horrible story. A couple of kids found her body.”
My mother paled and interrupted, “Oh darling, I don’t know why you focus on such dreadful things. A murdered girl! It’s a wonder you get any sleep at all with all those ideas in your head. Really.” Then she neatly switched gears. “Did I tell you that I spoke with Helen Roberts the other day? You remember Helen. Her daughter Lindsey is a few years younger than you. Well Lindsey just had her second child, a boy.”
My mom’s voice faded to the background. I have heard versions of this for years. Apparently, everyone I know is happily married with children. My mother’s message was subtle but received. Okay, sometimes it’s not so subtle. I should be worried about my single status. I should be working on getting married and having children. Sometimes it’s easier to just let her ramble on.
At the end of our dinner, mother and I hugged before I drove home. We get together once a month, and the evening of catching up has exhausted me. When I got home I took Max out, showered, and then fell into bed.
I dreamt of Emily.