First Chapter Second Place for Mystery/Thriller: Left Alone by Brinda Carey
August 10, 2016
Left Alone by Brinda Carey is the Second Place winner in the Mystery/Thriller category of Works in Progress for the East Texas Writers Guild First Chapter Book Awards.
Award-Winning First Chapter
Tasha clutched the infant to her chest and glanced out the window as the bus pulled away from the curb. A fight had broken out. People were yelling and pumping their arms in the air. Stupid gangs. Oh, my God, there is a little boy in the middle of that. What is this world coming to? I will have to move soon, but I don’t have the energy to move much less deal with street violence. I don’t have the strength to do anything anymore, except put one foot in front of the other.
The little sleep she’d gotten over the past few weeks came only when she simply couldn’t stay awake anymore and passed out in a chair with the baby. The Coldplay tee-shirt and shorts she had on were the same clothes she’d worn for five days, and she couldn’t remember when she last ate. She felt uncomfortable with the looks she received boarding the bus, but maybe they just wanted her to shut the baby up. She’s crying. Again. Tasha swiped the hair from her face and stared back at them until they looked away, then slouched back into the seat, grateful to have a chance to sit down.
The baby’s cries were soft, yet they pierced her brain. She hoped the lull of the bus would help her baby girl fall asleep, but the noises on the bus today were deafening. Conversations mingled together in a cacophony of the trivial and mundane, coughs, laughter, and crying. If only she could stop these voices, she and the baby could rest.
An elderly lady in the seat next to her said, “Is there anything I can do to help?”
Tasha leaned away, clutching the baby even tighter to her chest. “No. No, nothing.”
The woman lay back with her open hands in her lap. She smiled and spoke softly, “Having a baby can be really hard sometimes. I remember sleepless nights and sometimes I cried along with my babies.”
I’ve never heard a mother admit she did that. She understands. Maybe they are still watching you and told her to say that. Don’t talk to her. Tasha looked at the woman who had a pleasant, oval face. Silver combs held her salt and pepper hair back, but some curls had escaped which softened the lines of her face. A simple wedding band adorned her left hand and big plastic earrings matched the pastel skirt dress she wore.
“You know, I’m good at rocking my grandbabies to sleep. Won’t you let me hold your little one and give you a break?”
This woman reminded Tasha of her grandmother. She stared off into space as memories of crawling onto her grandmother’s lap and looking up into eyes, only to see love and kindness there. This comforted her weary soul even now.
The woman furrowed her brow and gave Tasha a sad smile. “You seem frazzled and exhausted, poor thing. I just wish I could help you somehow. You remind me of my granddaughter. She has pretty blue eyes and hair the same sunny color as yours. She’s younger than you. Just graduated from high school.”
“How old do you have to be to finish high school?” You just had to open your mouth. I was curious. You know where that will get you.
Tasha watched the lady tilt her head’ squint her eyes and give her a look that frightened her, like she could see inside her mind.
“What are you looking at?” Tasha heard the anger in her voice. Again. Stop talking!
“I was just thinking about your question. Most students are about eighteen, although that can vary a bit depending on specific factors.”
Now she’s really starting to piss me off. “You think I’m older? Why? Because I have a baby? You don’t have to be old to have a baby.” Tasha noticed people were looking at her and spoke louder. “Maybe it’s because I have dark circles under my eyes from lack of sleep or don’t have on make-up?” You need to calm down; you’re going to hyperventilate. Do I look old? No, I don’t look old. “Tell me why you think I’m older than eighteen.” Tasha tapped her foot on the floor and forced herself to stop talking.
“Honey, I didn’t mean to offend you, but I can tell I have. I suppose you just seem so much more mature than my granddaughter. She’s a flighty, giggly girl most of the time.”
“Must be nice.” Tasha turned away from the woman and stared out the window.
“You really do have beautiful eyes and your thick, golden hair is something my granddaughter would envy.”
The bus traveled slowly. Blocks passed by in a blur. Unshed tears distorted the view.
She’s trying to be nice. You’re acting like a jerk. I wouldn’t be if you would learn to keep your mouth shut.
Tasha took a quick look at the elderly lady. She looked as sad as Tasha felt. “Thank you,” Tasha said softly. “I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings and I realize you didn’t mean to hurt mine.” Are you sure about that? I’m not sure of anything, but I feel sorry for her.
“You didn’t hurt my feelings. I used to have trouble communicating with my daughter when she needed me most. I let her down. I think perhaps it is her you remind me of and not my granddaughter after all. I am upset with myself, not you.”
Tasha gave a weak smile and nodded her head like she understood—which she didn’t. I think this woman needs a therapist. She’s just sad. Or a bit nutzo.
With a smile in return, the woman said, “Let’s start over. My name is Genevieve Gordon and it’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“Thanks. I’m Tasha.”
“I bet your baby is lovely like you.”.”
Tasha sighed. She is pretty darn cute. She carefully pulled the worn pink blanket off the baby’s face.
“Oh, she is beautiful,” the woman said with a wink, “and I was right. She does look like her mama.”
“She’s even prettier when she isn’t crying,” The baby’s cries had lessened to a soft whimper. Tasha brought the infant up to her face and gave her a tender kiss on the forehead.
“Such a tiny little angel. How old is she?”
“About four weeks. I named her Caitlyn.”
“That’s a lovely name.” Mrs. Gordon reached out and patted Tasha gently on her arm. “I know it’s hard now, but it gets easier, I promise.”
They settled into a contented silence. Tasha felt more relaxed than she had in weeks. Even in crowds, she usually felt alone, but somehow this woman’s presence made her feel like someone was on her side. It would be wonderful to have some help with Caitlyn, besides, what could happen on the bus with me sitting right next to her? Don’t get soft. Soft will get you hurt. I’m not stupid. It will be okay.
“Miss Gordon, are you sure you wouldn’t mind holding her?”
“Mind? It would be my pleasure. And please call me Ginny.”
Tasha gently handed Caitlyn to the grandmother. The blanket slipped off the baby’s bare shoulder when the woman took her. She laid the baby across her lap. “Let’s wrap you back up, little one.”
Tasha sucked in her breath when the woman started opening up the blanket. Scabs and open wounds with peeling, ragged edges covered the baby’s body. In some places the wounds were an angry red and oozed a sticky, yellow fluid which adhered to part of the blanket. Ginny became very still, and Tasha noticed a glimmer in her eyes.
“Be careful. Don’t touch her. I’m sorry. I should have told you she is sick. I hope she isn’t contagious, but I think it might be leprosy.” Tasha began wringing her hands. “Miss Ginny, I need to find a priest who can heal her. Do you know one?”
Ginny gently rewrapped the fragile baby girl, who wore only a diaper and pink booties. After a few moments, she slowly lifted her head and turned toward Tasha. “Let me think,” she whispered and closed her eyes.
Tasha sat impatiently picking at her cuticles. What’s happening? I wish she would say something. Mama always said not to interrupt people when they are praying, but if she doesn’t open her eyes soon, I’m grabbing Caitlyn and making the bus stop so we can get off. She’s starting to give me the creeps. Shhh. She’s praying.
Ginny opened her eyes and offered Tasha a weak smile. “I know exactly where we should go. Now, don’t you worry. Everything is going to be fine.” She began rocking gently and in a quiet voice sang, “Hush, hush, time to be sleeping. Hush, hush, dreams come a creeping. Dreams of sweetness and of light. Don’t cry in your sleep, bonny baby.”
Her calm strength and gentle manner soothed Tasha and, for the first time in ages, she believed things might get better. She allowed herself to relax back against the seat and listen to the sweet lullaby. It’s okay. Grandmother will take care of us. Tasha closed her eyes and fell into a deep sleep.
Tasha woke abruptly to the sound of a baby crying. She glanced toward the seat beside her to assure herself that Grandmother had everything under control. The seat was empty. Suddenly she was wide awake. She stole my baby! In a panic, Tasha screamed as she ran down the aisle of the bus trying to locate her. She clutched the bus driver’s shirt by the collar and shook him. “Did an old woman get off here with a baby?”
“Yes, she took the baby through that door over there.” Tasha looked to where he was pointing and realized they were at the emergency entrance of a hospital.
Springing from the steps, she rushed inside to see Ginny talking to a middle aged police officer down the hall. Tasha yelled to the officer, “Stop her. She’s stolen my baby.”
Ginny nodded in her direction and said something to the officer. He started walking slowly toward Tasha with his hands in the air. “It’s okay, ma’am. Everything’s under control.”
“No, it most certainly is not. She,” Tasha pointed at Ginny, “stole my baby!” At that time, she noticed the woman’s arms were empty. She lunged toward Ginny. “Oh, my God, what have you done with my baby?”
“Step back, ma’am. Please calm down. Your baby is safe and being examined by the doctor right now. This lady was telling me how she met you on the bus and you thought your baby had leprosy. Is that correct?”
Tasha looked up at the officer’s face. He must be at least six and a half feet tall. He won’t help you. Although the man intimidated her, she prayed he would listen. “Yes,” Tasha wailed. “She needs to be healed by a priest. A woman at my apartment building told me that is the only way to cure her.”
“I’m Officer Dayton,” the officer said, and he pointed to another officer, much younger with a black crew cut. He was entering the door she had just walked through, “and this is my partner, Officer Stokes. We are here to help you.”
Guns! They have guns. Tasha shivered as a chill ran down her spine. Something’s wrong. What are they hiding from me? Why haven’t they handcuffed that crazy woman for taking my child? “Take me to my baby. Now. I have to see her right this minute.”
“The doctor is busy examining her, so why don’t you come with us. There is a quiet room where we can talk, and we’d like to ask you a few questions.”
Officer Stokes reached out to hold her elbow, and Tasha violently tugged away from him. “Do not touch me,” she hissed. “You men are all the same.”
Her heart thundered against her ribs and beads of sweat trickled down her face. Thoughts bit through one another in her mind like a school of piranhas. Don’t do it. What if these officers have conspired with this woman to steal babies? They could help. No, this is a trap! They could be working for him.
In an instant, Tasha bolted down the corridor screaming, “You can’t have her. She’s mine. Give me my baby.” She tackled a nurse and they both fell to the floor. “Where is she? What have you done with her?” The nurse couldn’t answer with Tasha’s hands around her throat.
Suddenly, arms were around her, and Officer Dayton’s hands were hurting her as he pried her off the nurse. Arms everywhere. Forcing her to the floor. Holding her head, her arms, her legs. They said it was for her and the staff’s safety, but Tasha knew they were all working together. She continued to kick, scream and scratch, until she felt the stab of a needle plunge into her hip.
Through a small slit, Tasha saw hazy images. Where am I? It’s so quiet, and it smells like rubbing alcohol and sweat in here.
She heard the door open and a woman in scrubs entered the room. “Hello, can you tell me your name?” When Tasha didn’t answer, the nurse looked at her wristband and said, “Tasha, my name is Sandra, and I’ll be your nurse tonight.”
What? I’m in the hospital? She attempted to get up, but both hands were bound to the bed by soft restraints.
“Before you know it, we’ll have you feeling good as new.” Tasha watched as the nurse lifted the IV tube and inserted a syringe full of medicine.
“Stop. What are you giving me?” Tasha began to panic. Did they take me back to Zion?
Before Nurse Sandra could answer, a man, in his mid-forties and dressed in a nice suit, walked into the room. “I’m Dr. Metcalf. I’m here to see what we can do to help you. Could you tell me your complete name?”
“You can help me by letting me out of this bed and getting my baby for me.”
“Before I can do that, I need for you to answer a few questions.”
“I’m not telling you anything. Why am I strapped to this bed? Why am I here?”
“Your baby was brought in for treatment, and you became extremely agitated,” he stated matter-of-factly, without looking up from the chart in his hands.
Tasha’s head was swimming and, although she wanted to scream her demands, her words came out slurred, “I want out of here. Now. I want to see my baby.”
“First we need to make sure you are well. You are dehydrated and exhausted by your own admission. We’re also concerned about your safety and the safety of those around you. We can help you, Tasha, and you need to be healthy in order to take care of your children.”
Tasha did feel terrible. Her mind was fuzzy and she ached all over. The rest would do me good, and Caitlyn is being taken care of, right? No, no, you idiot. But I’m so tired. You can’t give in, now. Either way, I will need to cooperate and get my strength if we’re going to get out of here. “Tasha Inglish. My full name is Tasha Inglish.”
“Do you have a husband or other family member we can call for you?”
“No. He left us before the baby was born.” Why is he asking about Jeff? Wait. Do they know what happened to him? Men are scum and deserve whatever they get! This man knows where Erin is. Stick to the story. Instead of answering his question, she insisted on getting some answers herself. “My baby, Caitlyn, is she okay? Does she have leprosy? Is she going to die?”
“Mrs. Inglish, Tasha, your baby is receiving excellent care. She has been admitted to treat her wounds and an infection. Now, can you tell me the names of your children and why you were seeking help for your baby?”
“She got sick when she was a couple of weeks old. Her skin began to peel, like after you get sunburned, you know? I tried to pick off the dead skin because I figured it made her itch, but it kept flaking off. And I don’t have other children. Just her.”
“What about your three-year-old son, Daniel?”
Daniel? Daniel? “Oh, you must mean Danny. He left months ago with his Daddy. They aren’t going to come back. So, I have only one.”
“Danny was left alone at the bus stop, Mrs. Inglish. Several people told the police that it wasn’t until the bus was pulling away that they noticed him alone and crying. When asked where his parents were, he pointed to the bus. Several witnesses said they attempted to flag down the bus, but it didn’t stop. One man said he remembered seeing the boy near you. He thought you were together because you both looked disheveled and had vacant eyes and blond hair.”
This can’t be true. She would know if Danny was with her, wouldn’t she? Didn’t he go with Jeff? No. That can’t be. There was only one body. What? I don’t understand. What did I do with Danny? How could I forget about him? It was them. It had to be them.
“Do you remember now?”
“You are mistaken. I would recognize my own son if he was standing with me at the bus stop. If he was there, then his father should be arrested for dumping him out on the sidewalk like that. No, I don’t believe it. They are lying to you.”
“What is your husband’s name and address? We can have the police talk to him.”
“All I can tell you is his name is Jeff and he left us. I don’t know where he’s hiding out.”
“Maybe the police can help. They will be in later to talk to you after you’ve rested. The woman who was here with you last night would like to be updated on you and the baby’s status. Would that be okay with you?”
“No.” She firmly pressed her lips together and gave him a cold stare. “She tried to steal my baby.”
“Actually, Tasha, that woman may have saved your baby’s life as well as your own. Someone will be bringing in some forms we need filled out today. Try to think of a family member we can call for details you aren’t able to recall right now. This may help you recover faster; however, you will be our guest here until you are well. I’ll go now and let you get some rest.”
Tasha heard him talking to the nurse near the door. “Give her another 10 cc’s. I don’t know how she is still awake.”
She watched the door close behind the doctor. The nurse had her back to Tasha at the sink. Tasha blinked and the nurse materialized by the bed and was stabbing a needle into a snake. She wanted to scream, but couldn’t. The voices were making so much noise, no one would hear her anyway. Why are they holding me hostage? Why won’t they let me see my baby? Instead, they tie me to this bed and shoot me up with drugs. I wish they would Leave. Me. Alone. Think, Tasha. How are you going to rescue Caitlyn and escape? But, she couldn’t think. Her eyelids drooped and her mind was cotton. Then it was nothing. Not even a dream. She was able to rest. At last.