Work-in-Progress Status: Partial first draft. On hold until I finish other projects
By the time I saw the girl, it was too late.
With her daughter Eva in a coma from a car crash that may have been a suicide attempt, psychologist and recovering alcoholic Delaney Dixon sets out to discover where Eva was going and who she met that night.
The clues lead to an isolated Appalachian town hiding a pair of mysteries: the sudden death of the very woman Eva had been going to see, and the decades-old disappearance of two little girls.
When Delaney starts having vivid dreams about one of the missing girls, she begins to understand the complex currents that seethe below the surface of the sleepy little town, pitting rich against poor, founders against newcomers, Baptists against pagans, developers against conservationists, and even, it seems, the dead against the living. No one wants an outsider snooping around in the town's troubled past, and Delaney must rely on all her wits if she is to get the answers she needs without meeting a mysterious end of her own.
A paranormal mystery about greed, love, and sacrifice.
Excerpt: (first couple of pages of the first chapter, first draft)
By the time I saw the girl, it was too late.
I'd been driving for three hours through the remnants of a late autumn hurricane. It was like driving underwater. The windshield wipers slapped back and forth, useless against the downpour. Rain hammered the roof, hissed beneath the tires, streamed in sheets down every window. I gripped the steering wheel tighter and squinted into the night. The faded yellow line was the only sign that I was still on the narrow, winding road.
I remember thinking I must have taken a wrong turn somewhere. There wasn't a house or streetlight to be seen. Nothing that looked like the intersection I was expecting, just mile after mile of shrubby woods and run-down cow pastures. According to the directions I'd scribbled down on the back of an envelope, I should have reached the turn-off to the village of Kingsley Crossing by now, but there was no sign of the old country store that supposedly marked the spot.
A smarter person would have waited until morning instead of driving all night through the storm. But the old woman's message I found when snooping on Eva's voice mail had sounded so urgent. Who was this Margery Greenacre, and why had my daughter been going to see her? More importantly, was she the reason Eva was lying in a hospital bed in a coma from which she might never awaken?
Naturally, I'd tried to call the woman back, but for six days now there had been no answer. I couldn't sit by Eva's bedside another moment without knowing the truth. Had the crash really been an accident? Or was it what the police suggested, a suicide attempt? And if so, why would my beautiful daughter do such a thing? If this Margery person had the answers, I was determined to find her, no matter what.
Now here I was, alone on a dark, deserted road: possibly lost and certainly miles from any decent cell-phone reception. For the past forty miles the radio had refused to play anything but static, and now the windshield was beginning to fog up again despite the air conditioner's feeble stream of tepid air. It was already after eleven, and the needle on the gas gauge was edging down towards empty.
"Brilliant. Just wonderful." I tried to swipe at the foggy windshield with the sleeve of my rumpled sweater. Too late, I saw the dog.
It loomed in the middle of the road, so black and still against the reflected raindrops that for a moment it looked more like a gigantic pothole than a living animal. Its eyes caught the glow of my headlights and shone back at me like two yellow-green beacons. Then the lights swept past and revealed the figure of a girl beside it, gripping the dog's collar.
I hit the brakes hard. The old Sentra bucked and twisted in protest. Its right front tire shuddered off the slick pavement and onto the soft gravel shoulder. For a moment, everything swung into sharp focus. A grassy embankment and a sagging barbed-wire fence loomed just beyond the scattered beer cans and fast-food wrappers in the ditch. My stomach lurched, and the shoulder belt slammed into my collarbone. With a sickening crunch, the Sentra came to rest, nose down in the ditch.
Shakily, I unbuckled the seat belt and flung open the door. Rain rushed in, drenching me to the skin. My first step landed me ankle-deep in cold water, then the night split open. A light pierced the darkness, a whistle bellowed, and a hundred tons of thundering metal roared past… and past… and past.
It was so close I felt its rhythmic clatter through the soles of my shoes, felt the breeze of its wake cool my wet cheek. But it was already receding into the distance before I could pull myself together enough to identify it. A train. Just an ordinary freight train, probably carrying coal or lumber or corn across the rural landscape to--well, to wherever those things go.
Suddenly my knees felt weak. If I hadn't gone off the road, I would have been crossing the tracks a few seconds later, just as the train barreled through. If that had happened, I wouldn't be standing here now worrying about how far it was to the nearest house or gas station where I could call a tow truck.
Why had there been no warning? I hadn't even seen the railroad crossing sign, leaning drunkenly to one side, half hidden by bushes. Its black and white paint was peeling, its two red bulbs shattered and dark, shot out perhaps by a frustrated hunter or some rowdy farm kids out on a spree. If it hadn't been for that stupid dog--
I grabbed my purse and keys from the car and went to look. The dog was still standing in the exact same place, and the girl had not moved from its side. She was thin and fair-skinned, about eleven years old. Her red hair hung down her shoulders in two long, neat braids. Her raincoat was open, and beneath it she wore a pair of faded overalls cut off just below the knee. Water flowed over her tattered, discount-store sneakers, but she didn't seem to notice. She just stroked the dog's wet fur and watched me floundering in the ditch.
As soon as I caught my breath, I'd meant to say, "Are you okay?" but her calm composure unnerved me. I'd no sooner opened my mouth than I heard myself ranting, "Are you nuts? What are you doing standing in the road like that? Do you want to be run over? Look at my car. I could have been killed!"
Solemnly, she nodded. "It's not safe."
I don't know what kind of response I'd expected, but that wasn't it. "What?"
Her eyes were dark hollows beneath her brows. The dog whined and pulled against its collar, tail swaying gently. The girl rubbed its head until it subsided. "Go back," she said. "It's not safe for you here."
"Go?" As I crested the slope my foot slipped on the slick grass and I tumbled onto my hands and knees. Shards of gravel bit into my palms; cold mud saturated my slacks. Now soaked, filthy, and stranded in the middle of nowhere, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. "I just crashed my car into a ditch. I'll be lucky if it ever goes anywhere again!"
I wiped ineffectually at my muddy legs, then straightened up and tried to push my dripping hair out of my eyes. "I'll need to find a phone. There's no cell reception here. Where's the nearest--"
Finally able to see again, I stopped in mid-sentence, gaping like a fish. The little girl was gone. Vanished like she'd never been there. The dog stood there alone for a moment longer, then gave one sharp bark, turned, and trotted off along the yellow line in the center of the road, its furry black tail swinging cheerfully behind it.