Authors: Rita Herron
BEFORE SHE DIES
A Short Story
by Rita Herron
© 2012 Rita Herron
All rights reserved. No part of this book shall be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the publisher. No patent liability is assumed with respect to the use of the information contained herein. Although every precaution has been taken in the preparation of this book, the publisher and authors assume no responsibility for errors or omissions. Neither is any liability assumed for damages resulting from the use of information contained herein.
This is a work of fiction. All incidents and dialogue, and all characters with the exception of some well-known historical and public figures, are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Where real-life historical or public figures appear, the situations, incidents and dialogues concerning those persons are entirely fictional and are not intended to depict actual events or to change the entirely fictional nature of the work. In all other respects, any resemblance to persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.
Cover Design and Book Preparation by Click Twice Design.
Sometimes people had to die for a good cause.
Soldiers did it all the time. And he was a soldier now as he always had been. A soldier who never questioned his orders.
Take a life. He aimed his gun and fired.
Go into combat. Done.
Spearhead this project at Slaughter Creek Sanitarium.
Here he was.
The tall mountain ridges jutted out like knives over the valley, an image that made him smile. His choice of weapon was a M24 sniper ripple, but he was equally adept with his hands and knives.
He had used all three to kill before.
And he would do so again if needed.
Anything to protect the assignment now entrusted in his hands.
And to ensure that the small population of Slaughter Creek, Tennessee, remained oblivious to what was about to be unleashed upon them.
Set apart from the rest of the world by the thick forests, the winding roads and steep hills kept strangers away and created a private oasis for the patients inside the lunatic asylum.
Well, maybe not exactly an oasis for the nutcases and head jobs but privacy as they received therapy and counseling and learned to manage drug treatments to enable them to fit into society and behave like a sane person should.
He wove down the narrow road through a tunnel of trees, the dark skies and unseen dangers lending an eerie feeling as if he might be walking into the devil’s lair. Civilization had not yet cornered this part of the world where mountain lions and bears still roamed freely. Where hikers and campers ventured only in designated areas marked for camping.
Where anyone could hide and go unnoticed.
The winter wind blew leaves and twigs across the road, the trees swaying, dark gray clouds indicating a snowstorm on the way. The first flakes hit the ground as he eased through security, a dozen more crystals topping the barbed wire fencing that made the hospital feel like a prison instead of a safe place to recover from whatever mental affliction seized the poor lost souls inside.
He rolled up the drive, parked in front of the building, then stared at the monstrosity. The sharp turrets and muddy gray stone structure looked like a haunted castle from some gothic horror show.
A smile creased his face.
Yes, Slaughter Creek was the perfect place for what they had planned.
And the best part -- no one would ever know what was going on.
Slaughter Creek – where the great battle between the Cherokees and the Creeks was fought.
Where people now live in peace and harmony.
Peace and harmony.
That was exactly what she needed, Norma Nettleton thought as she drove past the town’s welcome sign.
This small community tucked in the Tennessee mountains was going to be the perfect place to raise a child. She pressed a hand over her bulging belly as a sharp pain squeezed her abdomen.
children, since she was having twins. Two baby girls to love and adore, and to bind her and Ben together as a family.
Not that the unborn babies had done that so far. Far from it.
Instead of bringing them closer, the stress of the unexpected pregnancy coupled with Ben’s job loss and worry over money had splintered their relationship.
But being here near her family was bound to ease the transition from single couple to parenthood.
Her mother and father had moved to Slaughter Creek three years ago and claimed it had changed their lives. The people in the town had folded them into their close-knit community with love and kindness, and the clean air and good living, far away from the crime and drugs in the city, had restored their faith in people.
According to her mama, everyone in Slaughter Creek knew everyone else. If you were sick or had a problem, there was always someone there to hold your hand.
Unlike the cities she and Ben had lived in. Of course, they hadn’t stayed in one place long enough to get to know anyone. Because Ben had jumped from job to job.
A sign of the times, he’d said. The building business was down.
Their bank funds were dwindling.
And complications with her pregnancy had kept her from working.
She gripped the steering wheel tighter, twisting her head to avoid looking at how steep the drop-off was as she made the curve, her Honda chugging as she climbed the mountain. The car needed repairs, and with these hills and weather, would never last the winter. Another problem to face.
Snowflakes drifted down from the desolate skies, dotting the trees and ridges, making the idyllic scenery look like a Christmas postcard.
She passed pastures and farmland, signs for cabin rentals and camping spots then crossed into the tiny town. A flower shop, barbeque joint, diner, library, city hall and Five-and-Dime store were situated around the town square with a small grassy area complete with park benches and a playground for children in the center. She imagined herself pushing the babies in the stroller while she met with other young mothers to chat. She and her parents would meet there for coffee and watch the kids play as they got older.
Another sharp pain tightened her stomach, and she tried to massage it away. It had to be one of those Braxton Hicks contractions. It was too early to have the babies.
Eight weeks too early.
She had too much to do to go into labor. Unload the clothes and household items she’d been able to fit in to her car. Set up the house she’d rented.
Put the baby clothes the local church had collected for her in the nursery.
Make it look like a home before Ben showed up tomorrow with the pitiful little bit of furniture they’d accumulated in the last eight months.
But the pain in her stomach intensified instead of passing. She gritted her teeth and breathed through it, noting a sign for a free clinic on the corner. Her daddy said the doctors in town were so kind-hearted they let people pay when they could. Other times they just donated their time and gave free services to the needy.
A blessing for her and Ben and the twins.
Another pain ripped through her, and she moaned. Her legs were cramping, her back throbbing. As soon as she reached the house, she had to lie down. If she propped her feet up and rested, surely the contractions would stop.
And Ben would be here tomorrow.
Once he saw the town and realized they had support from her parents, that when she recovered from the birth and the babies got bigger, she could get a job, he’d feel better. Her mama had already agreed to babysit the girls.
She’d worked as a dental assistant in Harrogate, and in a doctor’s office back in Nashville, so hopefully she’d find a job here once the babies were a little bigger. Her daddy said they were building a new development on the other side of the mountain, and he’d talked to the foreman. He’d agreed to hire Ben.
Ben wouldn’t be running the project, but it would provide a paycheck, and he liked construction.
She passed the clinic, then turned onto the road leading out of town toward her new home, anxious to get there. Tall trees towered above her, shading the road and casting an almost eerie feel to the isolated area. She’d seen cars in town, but no other cars were on the mountain road tonight. The small town probably turned in early.
She slowed as she rounded the curve and maneuvered the switchback.
Another contraction gripped her, this one so hard and painful that she gasped and ran off the road onto the shoulder.
She braked, panicking as she hugged the curve, the drop off below making her lungs claw for air as she envisioned flying into the ravine. Tires screeched as she struggled to maintain control, surviving that curve only to run up on another. She downshifted, the pain in her belly intensifying as she searched for a place to turn around.
She wasn’t going to make it to the house.
She had to go back to town. Call her mama to come and get her. Maybe stop at that clinic and let the doctors examine her.
But a truck raced toward her, taking the curve too fast and crossing the line. She jerked the car to the right to avoid him. The tires churned over gravel, and she lurched forward, skidded and slammed into the guardrail.
A lamp from the back seat pitched forward, a bag of diapers the church in Nashville had given her flying over the seat, pelting her.
Then she felt a warm gush and looked down. Good Lord, her water had broken.
Panic seized her.
She needed a phone. Needed to call Ben and her parents.
But she was miles from the house. The town was closer.
The free clinic.
If she could make it back there, they would take care of her and carry her to the hospital.
Breathing through the pain again, she tried to start the car, but the engine sputtered and died. Frustrated, she grabbed her purse and threw it over her shoulder, shoved open the car door and dragged herself out of the car. Her lower back ached so bad her knees nearly buckled.
With determination, she gripped her stomach with her hand and began to walk. Her little girls needed her to be strong.
She wouldn’t let them down.
All Ben Nettleton wanted was to take care of his family. To put food on the table.
And for his baby girls to be born healthy.
But worry knotted his insides as he loaded the rocking chair Norma had found at a dumpster on some side street in Nashville into his pick-up truck.
Right now he was a miserable failure. And about the babies…
Fear choked him.
He leaned over, braced his hands on his knees and dragged in air. He had to focus.
Finish loading. Then he’d sleep on the floor tonight and drive to Slaughter Creek in the morning.
But moving there cut at him. Norma wanted to be close to her parents, said they’d help her with the kids and enable her to get a job.
But making her go back to work meant her father would know that he couldn’t provide for his daughter and grandkids.
He slid the rocking chair in beside the dresser that Norma had found at a garage sale for five dollars. Norma claimed she didn’t mind hand-me-downs, thrift store or garage sale finds. She didn’t even mind shopping in the dumpsters because some folks threw out good things. Their garbage was her treasure.
This rocker only needed cleaning up and a new coat of paint. And the dresser, well, who cared if the knobs were off and it was scratched? She’d put one of those doilies her grandmother had crocheted on top to cover up the marks. And she could find some knobs at the five-and-dime.
Besides, the babies wouldn’t care.
He hated that he was so poor that his wife had to pick up other people’s trash and take it home. That he’d been laid off at a time when he needed work – and money – the most.
That his little girls wouldn’t have fancy new cribs with frilly curtains and plush toys. That he had no idea how he would buy diapers and formula to supplement Norma’s breastfeeding if she couldn’t make enough milk for both babies.
Sweat broke out on his forehead, and he swiped at it with the back of his sleeve.
Plus, what if something went wrong with the delivery? He didn’t have insurance, and hospitals cost a fortune. Then there was the pediatrician and baby shots and ear aches and colds…
He hoisted the faded Formica table and the four vinyl chairs a neighbor had given them onto the truck next, trying to put his fears aside. But he couldn’t.
His secret haunted him.
It had every single day since Norma had wrapped up that little baby rattle and had him open it, her way of telling him she was pregnant.
He had been nauseated at the sight. Poor Norma thought he wasn’t happy but that wasn’t it. He was scared shitless.
He should have told Norma the truth before they married, should have told her doctor at her first OBGYN visit, but the shame of it ate at him like a cancer. If Norma had known, she wouldn’t be so happy.
She’d be scared to death like him.
But he hated to rob her excitement.
He stacked both cribs and their mattresses in the back of the cab, his hands shaking. Was he protecting his wife, or was he just a damn coward?
The phone in the house jangled. Knowing it might be Norma, he raced inside to answer it.
Hopefully she’d made it to Slaughter Creek and everything was fine.
But as soon as he heard Walt Nettleton’s deep voice on the line, his stomach clenched.
“Ben, it’s Norma. She’s gone into labor. You need to come now.”
Ben had to bend over again to catch his breath. He’d had a bad feeling all day.
“Did you hear me?” Walt said.
“Yeah, I’m on my way.” But his head swam as he climbed in the truck and tore from the house they’d lived in for the last six months.
He’d never been a man who was close to God. Hadn’t been raised in the church or attended Sunday school when he was a kid. His own daddy had been a drunk, his mama a tramp from the trailer park.
He’d vowed to do better when he grew up. To take care of his family.
But he’d failed.
And now Norma was in labor, and he was terrified their babies would be born sick.
Desperate, he glanced at the dark sky as he headed into the mountains and prayed that there was a God after all.
And that he’d make sure his little girls were born healthy and normal.