Give Something Away Day!


It is today and to celebrate, I’m giving you chapter one of When Wounds Heal. Enjoy the read and if you love it, here’s a link to get the whole book:

Chapter 1

Death and Rescue

At seventeen years old, Jedidiah Matthews was a six-foot-tall, lanky boy who could fly around a track. When he ran, he often saw girls watching him. He heard them say things like, “Wow, he’s hot and fast!” and heard giggles about his brown curls and baby blue eyes.

This late March day, Jedidiah took his time walking home from school, kicking a few rocks along the way. With track practice in full swing, it was later in the day, almost evening. The air held a chilly bite, and the sky was overcast and cloudy. He was glad he’d changed back into his jeans and t-shirt and dropped his hoodie over his head. His thoughts returned to his best friend’s dinner invitation. Kyle’s mother sure can cook, and there isn’t ever any dinner at my house. What was I thinking when I declined the invitation? Dumb decision!

Turning the corner, his house came into view. Jedidiah jerked to a stop. No cars in the driveway. That’s odd. By this time of day, there should be people present worth avoiding. Any other day he would sneak around the side of the house and hide or attempt to slip in the back door unnoticed.

But today, a heaviness in his gut told him something was wrong. The absence of activity and the deafening silence compelled him toward the front door. He reached for the doorknob. The metal felt cold to his fingertips as it turned in his grip, unlocked. An icy chill ran down his back.

Gathering his resolve, he slowly pushed the door open and winced when the hinges squeaked. Oh, no! Forgot about that. He gasped, and his eyes darted in every direction. I’m okay. Nobody heard. He took a deep breath and slowly exhaled.

The house was dark and silent. The gloominess did nothing to calm him. His pulse raced, and his heart felt like it was in a vise. I wish the sun would peek through the clouds so I could see better. He tugged at the bottom of his t-shirt and hoodie, hoping that straightening his shirts would ease his mind. It didn’t. Every hair on his body stood on end. He pictured his curly brown hair standing straight up. The imagery caused a muffled laugh, and he relaxed a little. 

He paused when he stepped through the doorway and allowed his eyes to adjust to the darkness. He didn’t want his presence known because he hated the things they made him do when they knew he was home. He proceeded silently, tiptoeing through the dimly lit house, not daring to turn on a light. 

Creeping down the hall to his left, he peeked into each room: his bedroom, the guest bedroom, the bathroom. All were empty. As Jedidiah crossed back through the center of the house, he froze. He stared down the short hallway on the opposite side of the house where the master suite loomed. It was the last place left to check—his parents’ bedroom. Every muscle in his body tensed, and his face became hot as both his fear and anger grew. Awful things happened to him inside that room.

His feet felt heavy as he forced them to move. Each step was like trudging through wet concrete. His heart pounded. Sweat beaded on his forehead and stung when it dripped into his eyes. Reaching towards the door, his hand trembled as he knocked. No answer. He let out a long, slow breath, allowing his heart to find its usual rhythm. This sense of relief was strange since nothing good could be on the other side of that door.

He turned the doorknob. The stench of alcohol and vomit slapped him in the face as the door swung open. His eyes immediately found his mother’s body sprawled across the unmade bed, wearing only her undergarments. He located his father’s body crumpled on the far side of the bed among empty syringes and vodka bottles. His eyes searched for signs of life. Their chests did not rise or fall.

Slowly he realized they were not dead drunk. They were simply dead. This time their bodies looked different. Red and purple lattice-like markings crisscrossed their arms and legs. He dared to touch his mother’s body. Leaning down, only his fingertips met her skin. Her body was cold, her life gone. Jedidiah didn’t place a finger anywhere near his father’s body. He wasn’t breathing either, and his body looked the same as his mother’s. He was gone too.

Overwhelmed by the sights and the smells gagging him, Jedidiah ran from the bedroom and out the back door. Outside, he gulped in fresh air until he regained his composure without vomiting. Now, he was glad he’d turned down Kyle’s supper invitation.

While continuing to inhale the fresh air, he admitted that the room’s general state was no surprise. Too many times, they had forced him to clean up their messes. He grimaced. The vomit is the worst. At least this will be the last time. Had they succumbed to alcohol poisoning or a drug overdose? What difference does it make? They’re finally gone. Good riddance.

Shouldn’t I be sad?

But he was not sad. He’d lost both his parents, the source of his pain and misery. What he felt, instead, was fear. His suffering was over, but would there be blame? The next step, he knew, was to call the police. His breath rushed through his body, out of control. Will they think I’m responsible? Will they think I killed them? A lump formed in his throat, followed by a flood of tears. He didn’t bother to wipe the tears away. As they dried on his cheeks and chin, his fears turned to worry and more questions. What now? Where will I go? I’m alone.

His heart sank further as he remembered his parents’ photo albums sitting in the middle of their dresser. They can’t stay in that room. Nobody can see me that way.

Panicked, he rushed back to the bedroom to find the albums. He pulled his shirt up over his mouth and nose and made his way around the bed. Opening the window would let in some fresh air.

Turning away from the window, he couldn’t stop himself from taking another look at his mother’s body. Her open, clouded eyes stared back at him. He shuddered, seeing putrid gray vomit lingering in her mouth, its trail visible from the corner of her mouth down the side of her face. He looked away. Overwhelmed by the grotesque display before him, he avoided even a glimpse of his father’s body.

Instead, he focused on collecting the photo albums filled with images documenting his horrors. His parents displayed them centered atop their dresser. Nobody can see them. Not ever. Taking his backpack from his shoulders, he shoved the albums into it. He noticed a rectangular void in the dust where the albums had been. That clean spot sticks out like a sore thumb. What now?

He recalled a tray in the cabinet above the kitchen stove. “Ahh. It will be dusty and about the right size,” he whispered. He retrieved the tray from the cabinet and carried it by the underside, leaving the dust on top undisturbed. He placed it on the dresser, then stepped back for a look. Empty, the tray looked out of place. Using his shirt, he collected syringes and debris from the floor, dropping it all on the tray. Covered with drug paraphernalia, the tray looked like it belonged on their dresser.

With the room staged to hide his shame, he felt ready to report his parents’ deaths. The only phone in the house was his father’s cell phone. He searched everywhere before having a sickening realization. Oh no! The phone must be in my father’s pocket. No way I’m touching that man’s body. He feared a close look would make him retch. His mother’s body had grossed him out enough. Getting that cell phone was not going to happen. He slung his backpack over his shoulder and left the house.

Jedidiah walked around the overgrown hedge between the houses to the neighbor’s door. He knocked. Mr. Harper opened the door. Jedidiah blurted, “Call 911! My parents are dead.”

When Mr. Harper went back inside, Jedidiah moved to a vantage point next to the hedge. Within ten minutes, emergency vehicles approached, their sirens screaming. His thoughts turned again to the photo albums. They would ask questions. The “what if” and “show me” questions they could throw at him thundered through his brain. He had to hide his backpack. Quickly he stashed it inside the hedge. The overgrowth combined with the coming darkness of the setting sun would conceal it.

The police arrived first, checking the scene. Then an ambulance with a two-person crew. He assumed one of the paramedics would declare his parents dead. All Jedidiah could do was watch and wait. Man, it’s taking them a long time. He hoped he looked respectful, like the stunned victim of an unspeakable tragedy.

An overweight police officer emerged from the house and walked towards him. Weren’t police officers supposed to stay in shape? Jedidiah’s heart raced, his palms sweat, and he hyperventilated. With his fear consuming him, he knew he had to get himself under control. His thoughts went to running. Using the same techniques he used to control his heart and respiration rates during long races, he managed the symptoms of his fear and calmed himself.

“Hey, you standin’ there like a statue.” The officer looked down at his tablet, then up at Jedidiah. He continued, “Are you Jedidiah Matthews, the son of the folks in that house?” The nameplate pinned to the officer’s pocket read Beaver.

Staring at the gravel below his feet, Jedidiah forced his words out through his tightening throat. “Yes, sir, I’m Jedidiah.”

“I’m sorry to have to tell you this, young man. The paramedic has confirmed your parents are, in fact, deceased.” Despite his size, his voice was gentle. “You saw a lot today. How you holdin’ up?”

“Okay, I guess. I’ve seen them come close to this before. They couldn’t stop. That’s how addictions work, isn’t it?” Jedidiah was relieved that it took less effort to get his words out this time.

“Yeah, it is. How old are ya?”

“Eighteen, sir.” The lie rolled off his tongue. His physique and height would sell it. Heredity and workouts were good for something.

Lying was Jedidiah’s means of survival, his way to hide. He had to smile, sit, walk, even run normally to hide his injuries and pain. Every time he said, “I’m fine,” it was a lie. He was never fine. He often wondered how it would feel to be fine. All the lies left a sour taste in his mouth, but at this moment, he saw no other option. He couldn’t face any more adults telling him what to do right now. Would different adults be any better than the ones he had just lost? He didn’t want to find out.

“Do you have some I.D.?” Officer Beaver asked.

Taking a deep breath, Jedidiah looked him in the eyes. “I’ve never gotten a driver’s license. All I have is my school I.D. card.”

Officer Beaver nodded. “Well, let’s see it.”

Jedidiah removed his wallet from his back pocket and took out his school I.D. card. He handed it to Officer Beaver.

“What’s your date of birth?”

“February 25th, sir.”

“Eighteen years old.” Office Beaver said, entering the date on his tablet.

Jedidiah nodded his head in confirmation.

“Jedidiah, I need you to stay right here. I’ll be back in a few minutes.” With Jedidiah’s I.D. in hand, he went to his car, out of the boy’s earshot. He used his radio mic to request wants and warrants, giving the dispatcher Jedidiah’s name and date of birth. With verification that Jedidiah had no record, Officer Beaver returned.

“I’ll be checking with the school in the morning. You got someplace you can stay tonight?” Officer Beaver asked.

I’m in trouble for sure when he talks to the school, but at least I’ll get through tonight.

“Yes, sir. With friends.” Another lie.

“I’m Albert Harper,” a voice called out. Mr. Harper made his way to where Jedidiah stood facing Officer Beaver. “I’m the one who called 911 and reported this sad event. Jedidiah will be staying with my wife and me tonight. We’ve been neighbors his whole life. He’ll be safe with us.” Mr. Harper smiled as he gestured towards his house.

Jedidiah gulped. We’ve been neighbors, but I don’t know them. Will I be safe? Guess I don’t have a choice now.

“Kiddo, I need to take you down to the station before I take your statement. I can record it there with less noise, and it will give you some privacy. At the station, I’ll need you to tell me what happened, everything you saw and did when you got home this afternoon,” Officer Beaver said.

Jedidiah took a step back, and his shoulders rolled forward as he gazed at his feet. “I do not want to go to the station. I want to stay here. Please don’t make me go to the station. I don’t want to go,” he pleaded. He stood still, but his hands began to tremble. He grasped his hands together to mask the shaking and took some slow breaths.

Officer Beaver gave Jedidiah a few moments of silence to calm himself. “I don’t want to make this any harder for you than it already is. If you’re more comfortable here, I’ll take your statement here.” Officer Beaver took out a pocket recorder from his jacket pocket and placed his hand on Jedidiah’s shoulder. “I need you to state your full name and relationship to the deceased and then tell me everything. If you need to stop, let me know, and we can take a break.”

Jedidiah took comfort from the officer’s soft voice. He raised his head when he heard the click of the record button being pushed. He spoke slowly, stating his name and that the deceased people were his father and mother. A few tears dampened his cheeks as he recounted every detail, starting with the house being too quiet when he arrived home. He omitted, of course, the changes he made in his parents’ bedroom.

“When was the last time you saw your parents alive?”

Jedidiah shuffled his feet. “They were sleeping when I got home last night.”

“Did you see your parents this morning before you left for school?”

Jedidiah took a deep breath and stared at the ground. “I never see them before I leave for school. I didn’t check on them this morning.”

I should have checked on them this morning. Were they already dead this morning?

“I just assumed they were still sleeping.”

Jedidiah’s voice cracked as he finished his sentence. His body shook, and his heart pounded in his chest. Slow breaths. This is not the time to panic. Mr. Harper put his hand on Jedidiah’s shoulders to comfort and steady him.

Officer Beaver returned Jedidiah’s school I.D. along with his business card. “You did good, kid. Here’s my card. Your parents’ deaths look like overdoses to me. They probably got a bad batch of heroin. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t be the first ones lately. We consider the house a crime scene until the coroner rules on the cause of death. We’ll release it in a few days, as long as nothing unexpected shows up in the autopsies.” Officer Beaver stopped the recording with a click. “I’m sorry for your loss.”

Officer Beaver turned to Mr. Harper. “Can I get your phone number as a contact number for Jedidiah? Staying with folks he knows will be good for this young man. Thank you for helping.”

Mr. Harper gave his phone number, and Officer Beaver tapped it into his tablet, then asked Jedidiah,  “Do you need anything from inside the house? If you do, you’ll need to come with me now to get it. When I leave, I’ll be sealing the scene until the coroner reports an official cause of death.”

Tears welled in Jedidiah’s eyes, thinking about going back into the house. His focus shifted to the ground. “I’ll make do with what I have. I can’t go back inside that house tonight. I just can’t.”

Jedidiah listened to Officer Beaver, recording his observations as he walked back towards the house. As soon as Jedidiah heard the words ‘demeanor appropriate,’ he breathed a sigh of relief. He believed me.

While Officer Beaver interviewed Jedidiah, the house filled with official personnel, including two full ambulance crews. Mr. Harper stood with Jedidiah as he continued to watch. They knew why the ambulance crews went inside when one stretcher rolled out, then a second. Each with a body zipped inside a black bag. They loaded the bodies inside separate ambulances. He knew this would be his last glimpse of his parents. He imagined them going to the morgue, being autopsied then laid to rest, or cremated along with other unwanted paupers. Fitting, he supposed. I’m nobody, the son of two nobodies who nobody will mourn.

Officer Beaver was the last to leave the house. He locked the front door and closed it. He placed yellow crime scene tape in an X across the front door, then stretched tape from one side of the house to the other and across every window. Officer Beaver walked to his car and squirmed and squeezed his bulk into the police car. The vehicle sank under his weight. Unable to stop himself, Jedidiah chuckled at the sight of the car going down the road with the driver’s side sitting so low it almost scraped the pavement.

Mr. Harper placed his hand on Jedidiah’s shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze. Before tonight, Jedidiah had only exchanged polite greetings with Mr. and Mrs. Harper. They were older than his parents, about the age his grandparents might be if he had any. Mr. Harper spoke with a gentle voice, “Come inside. My wife, Charlie, has supper ready. Please join us. I’ll lend you a pair of pajama pants and a t-shirt so you can shower and wash some of this day away. We’ll get your clothes clean for you for tomorrow. There’s no need to decide your future tonight.”

Mr. Harper turned and walked towards his house. Jedidiah snagged his backpack from the hedge and followed him, grateful for the refuge. He had made enough decisions for one day. And supper, wow!

He ought to be more somber, but all he could think about were the treats Mr. and Mrs. Harper were offering him. A meal, clean clothes, a shower, and a warm place to sleep. They seem kind. I hope I can trust them.

The following morning, Jedidiah awoke to smells of bacon and coffee, lying in a bed with clean sheets and a comforter. His clothes, clean and folded, lay on the chair in the corner of the room. Is this for real? He got up and went to the bathroom. He washed his hands, combed his hair with his fingers, and turned the door handle.

“Is that you, Jedidiah?” Mrs. Harper asked, using a tone as gentle as her husband’s. “Come to the kitchen and get some breakfast.”

Jedidiah made his way to the kitchen and sat on a stool at the island. Mrs. Harper plated scrambled eggs, bacon, and toast. When she handed him the plate, he saw a woman with kind blue eyes and a soft smile. Had his mother ever looked at him that way? Not that he could remember.

“Do you drink coffee? If not, I’ve got milk and orange juice,” Mrs. Harper said.

“Coffee with cream, please. Orange juice sounds good too. Thank you for breakfast.” Another treat. Breakfast is something I only get at school.

Mrs. Harper poured him a cup of hot coffee, then set it along with a small pitcher of milk and a glass of orange juice in front of him. He thanked her again. While he ate, he allowed his senses to take in the room. He ran his hand across the smooth, shiny countertop in front of him. He couldn’t help noticing how clean the tile floor and white cabinets were. The only time anything at my house was clean was when I cleaned it. The scent of bacon filled his nose. Now, that’s a good smell. Maybe I should pinch myself to make sure this isn’t a dream. No, if this is a dream, I don’t want to know.

When he finished breakfast, he offered to wash the dishes. Mrs. Harper shook her head with a smile. “You go get dressed; I’ll tackle the dishes. There aren’t very many.”

He went back to the bedroom and dressed in his clean clothes. I can’t believe Mrs. Harper washed these for me.

He returned to the kitchen, where Mrs. Harper stood washing the dishes.

“Goodbye. Thank you for everything.”

Surprised, Mrs. Harper dropped a pan into the sink, splashing water onto the floor. “Goodbye? Where are you going?”

“To school.” At the door, he paused only to pick up his backpack. He walked to school. What I need is an ordinary school day. I hope Officer Beaver doesn’t call the school.

Thank you for reading. I pray you enjoyed this preview.

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