Authors: Kristen Gibson
Red Ochre Falls
Motive / Detroit
Copyright © 2015 by Kristen Gibson
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed
or transmitted in any form or by any means, without prior written permission.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents
are a product of the author’s imagination. Locales and public names are
sometimes used for atmospheric purposes. Any resemblance to actual people,
living or dead, or to businesses, companies, events, institutions, or locales
is completely coincidental.
Red Ochre Falls/ Redline Motive. —First edition.
eBook ISBN 978-0-9909058-1-3
1. Mystery—Fiction. 2. Romance—Fiction. 3.
Self-defense—Fiction. I. Title.
To John, Abigail, and Connor for making every day a beautiful adventure.
Thanks go to family and friends who helped create this book.
conceivable manner, the family is link to our past, bridge to out future.
| || || |
Thanks to the
following people who encouraged my writing career and helped shape this story:
Susan Rose, John Gibson, Bev Gibson, Ron Gibson, and Debbie Sears for their
belief, enthusiasm and/or editorial skills; to the officers, insiders, and krav
maga masters who offered help and information; the many incredible teachers and
writers who’ve inspired me to become an author; to my husband and children for
cheering me on, and smiling despite the countless hours of work and convenience
meals it took to make this book a reality; and to my mom and grandma for
sharing their storytelling gifts. Hope you enjoy the book and will overlook any
My hands were tied
so tight there was no wiggle room. My desperate wrist contortions only made
things worse, and the strap dug deeper into my skin. Breathing hurt and the pain
seared from having my hands bound behind my back so long. I needed to get out
of here. I tried talking, actually reasoning with him, but could only croak out
a weak appeal. He was in charge, and wasn’t interested in listening. He wanted
the stage all to himself. Speaking was a performance to him, like he held some
imaginary audience captive, not just me. He moved closer. My gut clenched as
the smell of his cologne mixed with the damp odor of the place. The single
light bulb hanging from the grey ceiling cast his face with monstrous shadows.
I searched the room for another way out. Nothing. Absolutely nothing came to
mind. I braced myself, closed my eyes and thought, we all come from somewhere.
Then he knocked me out. Cold.
loaded the last boxes into an el cheapo version of a U-Haul and I piled a bunch
of clothes into our car. Being neat was the last thing on my mind. I’d had it
with boxes, and packing, and moving. I just wanted to close my eyes and forget
this ever happened. Unfortunately, this was only the beginning, if you could
call it that. It felt more like an ending—a big, fat disappointment of an
ending. I was getting mad again. I needed to keep my emotions in check if we
were going to survive the long drive ahead.
I sucked in a breath and turned to look back at our home.
Then it hit me. It’s not ours anymore.
We loved this house. We worked hard to make it our
own—from the pastel tulips and sweet magnolias in the yard to the sheer
butterfly curtains in my second-story room, and the built-in shelves in mom’s
office filled with books. We made a good life here. Now, we had to leave.
I wondered. Because it was what
was best for now, mom had said.
Pressure rose in my head and I stopped breathing for a
minute. The sky beyond the house glowed with pink streaks as day gave way to
night. The light was so intense I could barely see anything for a while after.
“At least we’ll have a roof over our heads, Mattie,” mom
whispered as she touched my shoulder. “We should consider ourselves lucky.”
I wanted to resent her, and her comment, but I knew she
was right. We were lucky. Other families didn’t have half of what we did, even
though it didn’t feel like much right now. Mom had suffered a heart attack,
we’d lost grandma, and our move felt like defeat to me. It would take some time
to adjust. I didn’t know if I could handle it.
Tears flooded my eyes as the hugs and goodbyes tore at my
Once the send off crew started to wane, we prepared for
My foot hit a crusty mat, and the truck creaked as I
stepped up into the Faux-haul. The cab reeked of fast food, gas, and a few
worse odors. At least it started.
Neither of us wanted to leave, so we took our time doing
final checks. I programmed our destination into the plug-in navigation box my
Aunt Eileen gave us. The note she included made us laugh, but it was a touching
Never will you be alone; with
this you can always find your way home.
We waved goodbye and headed toward
Mom drove the old beater, I got the rental. The truck shocks worked
about as good as the as the old AM/FM radio—which came without knobs or
power. If this was any indication of the trip ahead, I was in for a bumpy ride.
a couple hours, the rush of hitting the open road wore off. Driving felt like a
chore—a tailgating Camry and a near collision with a semi didn’t help.
Plus, nature called, so I signaled for us to pull off the highway.
We stopped at a gas station. I nearly fell out of the
truck. My legs reluctantly uncurled and a shiver shook me. I pulled out my
phone. Another text from my friend Jocelyn.
I met Jos when we were kids and coveted her tan skin and
stuffed animal collection. Growing up, we got into and out of tons of trouble.
Jos had been eager to hear about our new place, but I
kept most of the details secret, even from her. I just didn’t have the stomach to
get into it with her over the phone. Honestly, I didn’t know what to say to
anyone about what happened and where we were headed.
Mom walked over as I finished texting Jos back. I told my
friend I’d let her know when we got in, and we’d catch up later.
“You need anything from inside?” Mom offered.
“I’ll go.” I shook again and stuffed the phone back in my
pocket. I’d make time to find a jacket after my pit stop. “How about some
“Sure. Pick up a Lotto ticket while you’re in there.”
I would have said something, but she already knew my
response. See, I used to think it was fun to pick numbers. We’d play our
birthdays, and a few random numbers on a whim the years mom had a job. I think
our biggest jackpot was fifty bucks—not bad, for a one-timer. We hoped to
win enough she could quit her job, travel, and pay for college. Since mom got
hurt, and left her job, money’s been tight, so the lotto wasn’t as much fun.
Sometimes, I humored her.
“You never know, we might get lucky,” she said and handed
me a twenty.
I smiled. If it was one thing about my mom that stayed
true through this whole mess, it was her belief something good would come of
it. Despite her genuine concern about keeping us above water—doctors told
mom to leave her high stress job, or risk another heart attack—hope
remained. I felt hopeful too, but figured we needed more than a little luck to
get back on our feet.
Guzzle Mart was bright and stocked with everything from
donuts to shoe polish. They even had stuff I hadn’t seen in a long time, like
Corn Nuts, Big Slurps, and rotisserie hot dogs. I’d sworn off gas station meats
ever since a finals week episode left me praying over a porcelain altar.
“Five on the Lotto.” I piled everything, plus a car
freshener on the counter.
The clerk looked as enthusiastic as a pit bull. He had
dark hair, a bunch of strange tats and a nose ring.
“You wanna kicker with that?”
He scanned the items, took the money then handed back my
change, the tickets, and a bag filled with water, pretzels, and Corn Nuts. I
couldn’t resist. With food, drinks, and music, I felt ready to tackle the road
When I got back to the truck my phone buzzed. I was just
about to turn it silent, when the text caught my eye. It was from Chloe, my
M – seriously need UR help, call me soon – C.
I should have called, but changed my mind when I saw how
tired mom looked. The purplish color under her eyes indicated we needed to
finish this trip so she could rest. My phone went silent.
I crunched some salty Corn Nuts and plastered a smile on
my face. Mom needed me to be strong through this, and that’s what I intended to
do. I hugged her and watched her get back in the car, then hoisted myself up
into the moving truck.
The car freshener was so strong, even in the plastic it
scented the cab. The smell wasn’t great, but it overpowered the sweaty feet
just enough to seem like an improvement.
Wheels rolled and we pulled back onto the highway. My
thoughts focused on mom, then navigating semis and lane changes. The truck
didn’t have a working radio, and once I’d run out of songs to belt out a
cappella, it was easy to get caught up in figuring out why Chloe texted me. Or
why my ex had texted me the day before. It couldn’t have been a coincidence.
Like it or not, the people and past I tried to forget wanted my
attention—I’d weigh the pros and cons, and maybe call them later.
Back in school, Chloe and I took a lot of the same
classes, lived together in the same house, and shared a love of music. Between
the two of us, and a great sound system, our room became a local hotspot. For a
while, we were inseparable. Things changed when she met Tab, a nickname he
earned in prep school because the guy never paid for anything. Tab made a habit
of convincing people to pay his bills, college was no different. He thought he
was God’s gift, but he was less than average every way it counted. Once they
started dating, Chloe picked up a lot of Tab’s tabs just so we could keep
hanging out at our favorite places.
Jos and I didn’t like the way he treated her. It started
with insults. Then he hit her. Chloe tried to convince us it was just one time,
and an accident, but we begged her to leave him. She wouldn’t. It damaged our
friendship since I have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to abusive jerks,
and she’d denied the problem for months.
One evening, Chloe claimed to need rest and backed out of
dinner. Our friend Nina was really concerned because she’d overheard an
argument, so a few of us went to check on Chloe. We approached the room and
overheard a struggle. I tried the door, but realized it was locked. We never
locked our room. The girls living there kept the house locked, and only our
housemates had keys. I knocked on the door. Nina called to Chloe and we heard a
scream. We banged on the door and warned Tab to stop. Nina begged Chloe to get
away from him and unlock the door. I searched the hall table for the skeleton
key to see if we could get her out. Then the door opened.
Chloe answered red-faced, hair a mess with a bleeding
lip. She winced when she tried to smile. Nina and I forced our way into the
room as Tab zipped up. He smiled and shrugged, barely able to stand. The jerk
reeked of whiskey. We were pissed, and he knew it. If I could have lifted his
lousy butt, I’d have tossed him out the window. Instead, Chloe defended him.
“We were having fun, things just got a little rough,” she said. “I’m fine.”
Nina and I looked at each other. We didn’t believe it.
Just then Jocelyn came back with the Resident Assistant (RA) who’d been
cramming for a test in the basement while all this happened.
Our RA stood firm and told Tab it was time to go. He
grabbed his shirt and, grinning, looked back at Chloe. “I’ll see you soon.” I
hated him—we all hated him—for hurting Chloe.
Nina, Jos and I marched Tab downstairs. We shoved him
out, locked the door and turned out the porch light.
After it was over, we sat down and talked to Chloe about
what she’d been through. She wouldn’t listen to anything we said. She made
excuses for Tab even after we pleaded with her to see how dangerous he was and
to cut him off completely.
Not long after that incident, Jos told us Tab and Chloe
cozied up at the library. I’d had it. So, I made every excuse not to be in my own
room until late nearly every night. My work suffered; I skipped classes just to
rest in my own bed and try to take the edge off.
The whole thing strained our relationship. My life became
about avoiding the people I called friends. So, I didn’t tell anyone about
leaving school until Ethan showed up to help me pack. I left and didn’t look
back. Couldn’t look back.
Why Chloe would call me after our long silence eluded me.
Maybe she wanted to talk about school, or friends, but my gut told me it
centered on Tab. Whatever it was would have to wait, I had bigger issues to
tackle right now.
After a few more Corn Nuts, and more butt-flattening time
in the truck without a radio, we approached our exit.
Welcome to the jungle. I could see grit and guts in the
dark corners and stone mammoths, icons from decades past, that contrasted hip,
renovated establishments—signs of Cincinnati’s revitalization.
There was something about coming back at
night—lights shining over sleeping buildings, with buzzing pockets of
energy below—it looked breathtaking. While we had a rocky past, the city
felt familiar. This was the happiest I’d been about the move, or anything, in
the past few weeks. I hoped the ending would be different this time.
We took 5th Street to Vine and wound our way though town
until the voice on the Nav directed me to a side street. I made a series of
turns and mom followed me uphill.
A mix of old historic homes and businesses, some still
neglected, lined the street. The truck engine moaned. I hoped we’d make it
where we were going soon. A guy in a red Beemer behind us must have felt the
same, because he honked his horn like he was irritated. Guess he thought the
truck would speed up if he annoyed it long enough. But it ignored him.
Mom and I passed a market, a few shops, a bar, and a bus
stop—all the stores you’d need, and some you didn’t. The bulls-eye on the
screen showed we were close, so I slowed a little. The idiot in the Beemer laid
on the horn, and made a hand gesture as he sped past.
. We’d almost reached our destination. We needed to cross
oncoming traffic to park, so we waited for an opening. I cranked the wheel and
pressed the gas to get up into the lot when a panel van nearly creamed me.
Two massive columns flanked the blacktop drive. A proportionately
smaller iron lamp sat atop each painted white mass—I guess to light the
way. Just to the side of one of them was a shorter marble sign etched with the
business name: Mackenzie Funeral Home.
Above the columns I could see some parking spaces, blacktop,
and the front steps. A newer, but slightly mismatched burgundy awning covered
the entrance and two glass doors. As I gawked at the size of the place, the
truck slowed. I hit the gas harder to get up the incline. The engine shift
jolted me forward and the tires squealed. I pulled between two yellow lines
near the side entrance and shoved it into park. “Good enough,” I mumbled, and
turned it off.
We parked at the side of the building in front of a
massive brick wall painted white. Somebody really liked white. No windows on
such a large wall made me think dark and mysterious stuff went on inside. It
looked out of place, like a later addition to the main house. If you drew it on
paper, the side of the house we faced would start from the left as a normal three
story Victorian, with lovely windows and trim. Next, would be a standard-size
door serving as the side entrance, followed by a white brick fortress plunked
onto the back half of the house.
Only time would tell what the house had in store for us.