Excerpt from Murder: It’s All in Your Head (WIP)

Helen rested her elbows on the surface of the desk and cradled her face in her hands as she returned her gaze to the window. Her eyelids grew heavy, and she drifted to sleep.

She was walking through the unused field on Mr. Bender’s farm just outside of town. Wildflowers grew as high as her waist as she made a path through them, skimming her hands over the tops. Her hands were a woman’s hands: long-fingered and graceful. Helen grinned as she took in the rest of her body. The curves under the blouse and skirt were a rare treasure. She imagined keeping this gift.

What if I didn’t have to wait to be grown? I could run away and not look back.

She skipped, then ran through the field, laughing. She felt her hat blow off, but didn’t mind. Let the wind claim it.

In the distance, a young man leaned against a tree on the edge of the field. He smiled when he saw her and stood, opening his arms. “Susan!”

Her heart thudded. The blood pumped through her body, and for a moment, Helen believed this was real. She was meeting her lover, maybe in secret. She pranced through the flowers, wondering if she might take off in flight. She giggled and called back his name, unsure of how she knew it expect that it felt right, like it was as much as part of her as this body. “Matthew!”

“Helen!”

She woke, withdrawing her face from her arms, which were crossed on the desk. Sweat covered his skin, drool on her cheek. She sat up and wiped at her face, frowning.

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Excerpt from Murder: It’s All in Your Head (WIP)

“What are they?” Helen stared at the strange cookies in front of her on the table.

“I found them when I went into town to get some groceries. They’re called animal crackers.” Helen’s mother kissed her daughter’s cheek and took the bag of groceries to the table next to the sink.

Helen picked up the box and frowned at them. She opened it and nibbled on one. “They don’t taste like crackers, more like cookies.”

Her mother shrugged, her back to her daughter as she washed potatoes. “You’d best put them away in your room somewhere before your father gets home. You know he won’t take kindly to you eating sweets before dinner.”

A shiver shot up Helen’s spine. At twelve years old, she thought herself too old in many ways to be treated like the little girl her mom still thought she was. “When do you expect him home? Isn’t he supposed to be visiting old Mr. Hopper today?”

“Mr. Hopper passed away last night, dear. Your father was busy meeting with the family for most of the day to go over the details of the funeral. The whole town is expected to turn out for it on Saturday. He was mayor back in his prime, a name Hurston was built on.”

Helen made a face. “I don’t want to attend some stupid funeral of a man I don’t know.”

“That’ll be quite enough, young lady. To you room with your treats. Now.”

Helen sighed as she stood. She pushed in the chair, the legs scraping over the wooden floor. Her mother cringed at the sound, but kept working at the sink. The girl exited the kitchen and took the stairs as quietly as a mouse. That was how her mother liked her, after all: as quiet as can be.

When she arrived in her room, she knelt beside her bed as if to pray, but reached under the bed and pulled away a loose floorboard. She hid the box of animal crackers in the secret spot and replaced the board.

She avoided the bed and sat at her desk instead, staring out the window at the branches of the large oak next to the house. She watched a couple of robins flit around each other, as if in a dance, and she longed to be that free, to fly like in her dreams. She kept her eyes on the world outside, anywhere but on the bed.

There are other dreams, too. She smiled. She sometimes imagined she was walking around in someone else’s body, usually as other children in town. While she had no control over where her dreams might take her, her favorites were when she was someone rich like Matilda Forkins or Robert Jenkins. Matilda had all the best dresses and had two porcelain dolls, not just one. Robert was a year older than Helen and had the eyes of every girl in town on him.

But they end, like all dreams. They’re so quick, like a blink. “In the end, I still have to wake up and return here,” she whispered, whisking her gaze from the window and staring at her bed.

The haze of the summer rested heavy on Helen as she sat there, waiting for her father to return home. He would walk in the back door and comment on how wonderful dinner smelled, would kiss his wife, and would straighten his clerical collar. Her mother would make some remark about how proud she was of him for doing God’s work. And Helen would sit there, her mouth shut until she was spoken to by the man.

Helen rested her elbows on the surface of the desk and cradled her face in her hands as she returned her gaze to the window. Her eyelids grew heavy, and she drifted asleep.

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Excerpt from Murder: It’s All in Your Head (WIP)

Cassie walked up her street to the familiar sounds of kids playing. She gazed down at her hands and smiled. They were her hands, not some strange man’s. She was herself again. All those imaginings of being trapped in someone else’s body were just a nightmare. This was real.

She skipped with renewed vigor, then noticed her red shoes.

Those were mine as a kid. I was eight last time I wore these. Then how…?

She stopped in her tracks. She stood at the bottom of a driveway, the house obscured by several large trees. Odder still was that the driveway was blocked by iron gates–not the sort of thing she’d see in her suburban neighborhood.

She shrugged and pulled at the gate. When it didn’t open, she tapped the code in. It swung open. She entered.

There was home, the place she and Danielle had built just a year ago. She walked in through the side door of the garage into the kitchen. Maria was preparing dinner.

“It smells great, Maria,” she said. “What are you making?”

The older lady smiled and said something in Italian.

Molto bene. I don’t know what that is, but it smells delicious.”

She left the kitchen and found Danielle curled up in the library with a book. She joined her on the sofa and wrapped her arm around her, nuzzled her neck and kissed her when she turned to face her. “What are you reading?”

“How was work, Randy?”

She smiled. “It was a good day, but my favorite part of the day is coming home to you.”

Danielle giggled. “Charmer. You’re such an old soul, a real gentleman.”

“Not always. Not all my thoughts are so innocent, as you know. I was thinking later…long after dinner…a bottle of wine…you and me, naked in bed…”

“And if I’m not in the mood?”

“Tease.” She kissed her wife on the earlobe, then whispered, “I’m always in the mood.”

“Then it’s a date.”

Cassie closed her eyes to Danielle’s sensual touch on her cheek. When she opened her eyes, she stared at a concrete ceiling. Her heart raced, thudded in her head. In a cold sweat, she sat up on the lumpy mattress and gazed around at her surroundings: a tiny prison cell with a guy snoring away on the other cot.

“What?” she asked. “What was that dream?”

She lay back down, tried to tell herself it was just the stress of her situation catching up to her.

But none of this should be possible. People don’t just switch bodies, yet I can’t help get the feeling that was more than a dream. It was…a memory.

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Excerpt from Murder: It’s All in Your Head (WIP)

“Make your phone call,” said a balding cop.

Cassie stared down at her manly hands, the orange sleeve of her prison uniform brushing against the hair that extended just beyond it. Even her knuckles were hairy.

“Well, what are you waiting for? If you’re just gonna waste my time, I can find better ways to occupy it.”

Cassie nodded and picked up the phone with a shaky hand. She dialed home.

After three rings, a hesitant voice answered, “Hello?”

“Mom, it’s Cassie.”

“Excuse me? Who is this?”

“Mom, I know I don’t sound like myself, but it’s really me. I swear it. Please, just let me explain.”

“I don’t know who the hell you think you are, but this isn’t funny. You’re a sicko.”

“Mom, please–”

The line went dead.

“No…no…” Cassie stared at the receiver for several seconds, until the officer grabbed it out of her hand and hung it up.

The cop placed a hand on her back and directed her back to her cell. “Let’s go. What a waste of time if you ask me.”

But I’m Cassie. Tears streamed down the face that wasn’t hers as she dragged her feet back to the cell. She didn’t bother to speak up. This officer wouldn’t believe her any more than the others. They’ll think I’m some sort of messed-up psycho who preys on kids. Oh, my God. What if this Randall guy… He already murdered his wife. Those cops said he was sleeping around. Oh, my God. What am I gonna do?

They arrived at her cell. The cop gestured toward the open door. “Okay, inside.”

Head down, Cassie entered. The door slid shut with a resounding clang that tore Cassie’s heart to pieces.

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Excerpt from Murder: It’s All in Your Head (WIP)

Jimmy closed his eyes, tried to block out the imprisoned world around him. He knew fighting and yelling wouldn’t do him any good. Their notions of his insanity were only reaffirmed when he acted out.

He could hear the orderlies breathing as they stood beside him, but he didn’t care. It’s not like they were here to make pleasant conversation. “Oh, how’s the weather today, fellas?” he could ask. Yeah, right.

His thoughts gave way to dreams. Danielle’s auburn hair and infectious smile dangled in front of him. She giggled and reached for his hand.

When he looked down, Jimmy’s hand was gone. He was himself again, Randall. He felt the smile on his face, the muscles out of practice. “I’ve missed you,” he said to his wife. “Please tell me you’re okay.”

Danielle only laughed more and swung their clasped hands as they walked.

Wet sand squished between his toes. He looked down at the beach, then toward the water. The sun was setting. A breath caught in his throat. “This is where we went for our honeymoon. Maui.”

Danielle stopped walking and faced him. “We are on our honeymoon, Randy. Why else would we be here?”

“But- but this isn’t… I mean, this isn’t real.” He swallowed thick saliva.

The breeze blew, the smell of salt water wafting over his face. Overhead, palm branches rustled.

“Why wouldn’t it be real?” Her voice held a teasing undertone.

He kissed her pert, freckled nose and led her to a nearby hammock. They lay in it, side by side. He ran his fingers through her hair, down her shoulder and bare upper arm, kissed her on the lips. When he drew back, he said, “Do you know how long I’ve wanted to do that?”

“Sweetie, you kiss me all the time. You aren’t making any sense.” Danielle stared at him with concern in her eyes.

“This, right here, is the only thing that makes sense. I want to hold you forever. I need you back, Danielle. Someone’s taken you from me, and I can’t–”

He began to cry. Danielle blurred and disappeared. The sun set, and darkness claimed the world. Randall or Jimmy or whoever he was bellowed, “Danielle!” Over and over again.

The hammock flipped and dumped him onto a firm mattress. He opened his eyes to Nurse Nora’s plain face.

“Well, Mr. Williams, it looks like you’ve calmed down so much that you’ve fallen asleep.”

“I’m tired, so tired.”

“Well, that makes sense. It’s the middle of the night, after all.”

“I mean, I’m tired of this. All of this.” He tried to lift his hand, but the resistance of the restraint held him back.

The nurse straightened and gestured toward the orderlies. “You can release him.”

The two men nodded and undid the restraints on Jimmy’s arms and legs, then stepped aside.

“Goodnight, Mr. Williams,” Nurse Nora said. She was out the door, followed by the orderlies.

The door closed with finality. Jimmy sat up in bed and rubbed at his hands. In the dark, he couldn’t see the bruising, but he was sure he would have the marks to prove his disobedience for days to come, sure he would be teased by several of the other patients, including his friend, Charles.

“I’m Jimmy again,” he whispered. “That’s all I’ll ever be to them. No one will ever believe me, Danielle.”

He grew silent, listened to the darkness, as if expecting a reply. His sore, dry eyes slid shut as he lay back down. If it was only in his dreams that he could see her, could be himself, then he would go there.

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Excerpt from Murder: It’s All in Your Head (WIP)

“Can I trust you to behave yourself, James?” came the nasally voice of Doctor Winslow.

Jimmy lay on his bed, his arms and legs restrained. He had spent the first fifteen minutes thrashing like a fish on land, but then his energy had dropped. He hated this ancient body–yet another reason to feel he was losing his mind.

Now, he lay on the bed, staring at the dim fluorescent lighting, as he had been doing for the past few hours. The light flickered every few seconds. He wondered why they didn’t replace the bulb. In a way, the pattern was a comfort. It was something to focus on. He also tracked a water mark that had been there since before he arrived nearly two years ago.

He nodded, his eyes on the ceiling. Anything to avoid the doctor.

“Remove the restraints,” the doctor said. He left the room.

Two orderlies released Jimmy from his bed. He sat up and rubbed at his wrists, the marks from the restrains sure to remain for a while. The men walked away when they seemed convinced that Jimmy was going to remain calm.

Jimmy sighed. “What the hell? Why do I even bother?” He ran his hand over his scruffy face and stood.

He ambled down the hall to the common area. The T.V. was on, several patients gathered around it. Some stood, their arms crossed over their chests or talking between themselves. Others sat in various chairs placed randomly around the room. Some of them seemed fine, like they were just regular guys going about their day, but others roamed the room, moaning, screaming, and yelling, gesticulating with their hands and twitching their heads.

He made his way to the couch and sat. The six o’clock news was on. He only half-listened most evenings, not concerning himself with what was happening in a world he had no part in anymore. Then an all-too-familiar man’s face appeared on the screen.

“Hey, turn that up,” Jimmy said to the guy standing closest to the outdated T.V.

The guy shrugged and turned the knob to up the volume.

The newcaster’s voice seemed to come through a tunnel from miles away at Jimmy: “Local millionaire Randall Davis, founder and CEO of Randall P. Davis Innovations, is under arrest for the suspected murder of his wife, Danielle Davis. Danielle Davis’s body was found slaughtered in the bathtub in the Davis’s home here in–”

Jimmy bit down hard on his fingers and screamed. He shot to his feet and charged at the T.V. Several startled patients jumped out of the way.

“Whoa, watch it!”

“What the hell d’you think you’re doin’?”

“Just crazy, old Jimmy at it again!”

Someone laughed. Someone else hooped and hollered in excitement. Jimmy ignored them all and rammed into the T.V., knocking it down.

“You fucking liar!” he screamed at the now broken T.V., the newscaster’s face gone from the screen and a hole left where his head had been.

Before he could do anything else, two orderlies grabbed him around the arms.

“This seems to be becoming a habit for you, Jimmy,” one of them said. “Why don’t you calm down now and come with us the easy way?”

Jimmy fought and flailed, jerking his arms this way and that. He managed to yank one of his arms free and punched the guy who held his other arm. For an old guy, he was agile when he needed to be. The second orderly cried out in pain and grabbed at his bloody nose, while the first one staggered, still reeling from Jimmy’s escape. He made to grab Jimmy again, but Jimmy punched him in the gut. He ran at the door. He had to get out of there. He had to escape, go to Danielle, find out she was okay.

Then someone tackled him. The weight of the guy on his back was enough to tell him it was the fat orderly whose name was David or Doug or something. Jimmy struggled to move, reaching out in front of him along the dirty floor.

“No,” he moaned. “Please…no…”

His uneven nails clutched at a tile that was missing a piece in one corner. He felt the needlestick in his neck. The last thing he saw before he passed out was a black mark from someone’s shoe on the white linoleum.

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Excerpt from Mile Marker 139 (WIP)

Her feet pound on the treadmill. The rain comes down outside. She stares into the blurry window at the parking lot and keeps running, not getting anywhere.

Better the window blur than her eyes.

The music blares in her earbuds. Enimen talks about losing himself in the moment, in the music. Sarah tries to forget yesterday. The conversation with her mom. The uncertainty.  

But yesterday’s talk plays over in her head:

“I’m sorry you couldn’t reach me, dear. My phone died. Your aunt and I went out for lunch after the appointment, then had our hair and nails done. It was lovely. We bonded in a way we haven’t since high school.”

“I’m glad you had a good time, Mom, but you can’t ignore the fact of what they told you at the clinic.”

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