Enjoy a sneak peek of Evidence of Grace by Teresa Slack Now Available from Tsaba House
She awoke in a cold sweat, the remnants of the familiar dream fresh in her mind. Instinctively, she rubbed her hand against her nose to remove the moisture she felt as keen as her hand on her face, knowing all the while her nose would be dry. Nevertheless, she rubbed until her nose was sore and the dream had faded to a bearable level. She sat up in the narrow bed and removed her hand from her face and stared at it in the persistent gray light outside the bars of her cell. At times such as this, she almost appreciated the light’s glaring presence.
In the nearly three years she’d been here, she had gotten used to, but never totally accepted many of the things she had taken for granted in her former life. Among those was the simple act of going to sleep in comfortable darkness. At ten o’clock every night, somewhere in the vast recesses of the prison, someone pulled a loud audible lever, punctuated by a dull clang, and cells up and down the block went dark. She would close her eyes and will herself to believe she was back home in the bed of her childhood home with Mama and Daddy in the room next to hers. She thought of those long ago nights when she was lulled to sleep by their comfortable murmurings of things she didn’t understand. She tried to convince herself the stiff, narrow mattress beneath her was the same down filled one from her old room. Sometimes she even convinced herself she would awaken to the smell of hot coffee and frying bacon wafting upstairs to her room. But no matter how tightly she squeezed her eyes shut, she couldn’t block out the gray light that illuminated the hallway outside her cell. Even after she put her arm across her face, it was ever present, shattering her dream world of her little bedroom with the peeling wallpaper and water stained ceiling and Mama and Daddy next door.
Now, examining her hand in the pale light, she could see it was clean and dry as her rational mind knew it would be. Any blood that had once tarnished her face had been long washed away. Long gone.
She took a few deep breaths to silence the wild beating of her heart. Years ago, the dream had haunted her nearly every night. She dreaded going to bed, knowing what was waiting. The next morning, she would drink an extra pot of coffee and powder her face so no one at work would see the dark circles under her eyes or notice her dragging feet and absent-mindedness from sleep deprivation. No one suspected the secret hidden in her heart. Over time, she learned to push the memories and images farther and farther down inside her until her rest went undisturbed.
Most of the time. Even then she had known her secret wouldn’t remain hidden forever. Her sins would find her out. But knowing hadn’t prepared her for the price she had to pay.
She reached over and took the windup alarm clock off the bookcase beside her bed. She was a petite woman, a mere two inches over five feet tall, but lying flat on her back on the cot, she was able to reach the bookcase beside her, the wall behind her head, and if she scrunched down on the bed, she could even touch the cool metal bars with her toes. The toilet in the corner was two paces from where she now lay. She had trained her body to relieve itself as seldom as possible while confined to her cell, yet the stench still clung to her clothes and her hair. Another thing she couldn’t avoid or imagine away.
According to the alarm clock her brother Sidney had sent last month, it was five-fifteen in the morning. This was her fourth alarm clock in less than three years. Every time she turned her back, the alarm clocks, and everything else that wasn’t nailed down, disappeared, even though the cells were allegedly monitored and off limits when prisoners weren’t in them. Privacy or personal property did not exist here. Millions of dollars were spent to keep prisoners adequately confined within the prison walls to protect society from them, but nothing was done to protect the prisoners from each other.
In one hour and forty-five minutes, another metallic clang and buzzer would signal the turning on of lights and the beginning of another day. Knowing the chances of going back to sleep were highly improbable, thanks to the dream that had awakened her, she swung her legs over the side of the bed and reached for her Bible on the bookcase. It was too dark to read, but the weight of the Bible in her hands brought her comfort. She smoothed her fingers over the imitation leather cover and the new smell drifted up to her. The Bible was new too, her last one having disappeared last month. She closed her eyes in a silent plea as she stroked the cover, but the dream’s residue refused to fade.
The tension in her arms and legs that had woken her in the first place, remained. She felt as if she had just run a mile. She stood up and moved to the edge of the cell and pressed her head against the bars. To her left, someone cursed and rolled over in bed. Voices mumbled in their sleep from every direction. Boots thumped across the floor a flight below her. In the far distance, she heard a deep, throaty, masculine laugh. Even in the early morning hours, this place was never silent.
She turned back to face the cell and clutched the Bible to her chest, wishing for all she was worth she could erase the memories that had caused her dream. Without the memories, there would be no dream. She could sleep the unencumbered sleep of youth. Without the memories, she would finally be at peace.
Instead the memories stayed as crisp and crystal clear as though they’d occurred yesterday. She could almost feel her body catapulting through the air as if in slow motion. Every moment of her flight across the room unfolded like an old movie reel, the images jerky and erratic in her mind. The impact of her body against the other woman’s did nothing to slow her progress. They became one unit as they fell, spiraling, cascading downward. In the agonizing unreality of a sleep state, their fall seemed to go on indefinitely. Then the back of the couch caught hold of the other woman. She heard the exhalation of pain and surprise in her ear, alarmingly loud; much louder than it had been in reality. Still they spiraled downward, until finally, mercifully, the floor stopped their descent.
Sometimes the abrupt ceasing of the downward motion was enough to startle her out of sleep. She would awake breathless and frightened, but thankful it had ended.
Other nights—most nights—the dream continued. She would hear the sickening crunch of the other woman’s head as it banged against the antique boot scraper, the sound again magnified by the dream. She would see the pool of blood appearing under the thick mane of dark hair. Her nostrils would fill with the pungent aroma. And she would feel its thick warmth on the end of her nose.
Just like that fateful night, she first thought she had bloodied her nose in the fall and the blood she saw and smelled was her own. Her nose and chin smarted from a phantom pain where they jarred against the floor. But then she would put her hands on either side of the other woman’s shoulders, raise herself off the floor, and watch in morbid fascination as a drop of blood fell slowly from the end of her nose and landed with a silent splash in the widening pool beneath her. At that moment, she would realize the blood was not coming from her own nose but from the wound on the back of the other woman’s head. She would untangle her limbs from those of the woman and scramble to her feet. She would gaze down into those familiar exotic brown eyes and realize the woman was dead. In one foolish act of frustration and rage, she had snuffed out the light in those beautiful eyes.
The terror, the realization of that moment, almost always jerked her into wakefulness. Noreen shuddered in the tiny cell and pulled the Bible closer to her chest.
Other nights she dreamed of the sounds she made as she dragged Sally Blake’s lifeless body through Aunt Paula’s immaculate house and out the back door to her car. She felt the weight in her arms, the tiredness in her legs as she pulled and tugged and maneuvered the body into the trunk. The scent of blood and death and disinfectant filled her nostrils as she scrubbed the evidence of their fight off the metal boot scraper where Sally had banged her head and the congealing pool of blood off the aged wood floors. It wasn’t until she heaved the body out of the car and into the hole in the ground where it would remain for more than twenty-five years that she awoke in a cold sweat; her arms and legs trembling with fatigue and the sound of Sally’s body skidding and thumping against the walls of the old well still ringing in her ears.
To read more from Evidence of Grace, Book 3 in the award-winning Jenna’s Creek series, click on the book cover to purchase online or visit your local bookstore.