Dead reckoning

Dead Reckoning

Selected as a Book Excellence Award Finalist in 2023 in the ‘Thriller’ category!

It’s a hot summer’s day in 1984 when twelve-year-old Gilly and her friend Sally find a dead new-born in a shoebox hidden in the tall grass of the cemetery of their tiny town. Deciding to keep their discovery a secret, they bury the baby in Gilly’s yard, with disastrous results. Babies in their strollers are interfered with. Two local children disappear and end up dead. A suspect is arrested and confesses, blaming his crimes on Gilly and Sally for having stolen and hid the dead baby. 

Gilly grows up but is haunted by what’s happened. As a young woman, she flees the town and the bad memories it holds for her, going all the way to Japan. Returning with her husband as a woman in her late thirties to attend her mother’s funeral, Gilly finds that the past is not past. Somebody is throwing off blankets and putting flowers on baby strollers again. Gilly is threatened. When another child is abducted, Gilly knows she must discover the truth of what happened all those years ago before more lives are lost.

Excerpt of Story

     I picked up the box. It was heavier than I’d expected. Something weighty shifted inside.I looked up to see Sally’s wide-eyed stare.  her mouth dropping open. “Wha—wha—what’s that?” she shouted. She took off her other flipflop and carried it as she ran toward me.

             I tightened my grip. “It’s a present,” I said. “For me!” But Sally knelt beside me and grabbed the box. She untied the ribbon and took off the paper, saying, “What is it?”

            “It’s mine,” I muttered. “Finders keepers.”

            I leaned forward for a better look when the paper and ribbon lay on the grass. It was a black cardboard shoebox with the name Calhoun’s picked out in gilt lettering on the lid. Sally opened the lid, looked inside, and just froze. Time stood still. Her face turned a ghostly white. She shoved the lid back on and pushed the box toward me.

            I was surprised at her reaction. I’d been thinking the box must hold something like pretty pebbles or maybe a pack of Uno cards or even some cheap jewelry. Someone’s cast offs or rubbish but potential treasure for Sally and me. I gasped when I lifted the lid and saw a tiny pale form inside, wrapped in a white cloth.

It had a pretty face and a soft fuzz of blonde hair that reminded me of Cassandra. “A doll!” I beamed at Sally. She shook her head slowly, still in shock. I looked inside again. “Shit!” I threw the lid and scooted away on my butt, my hands grabbing at the long grass to help me along.

It wasn’t a doll. It was a baby. Perfectly still. It could have been sleeping, but it wasn’t. Its glassy unblinking eyes had stared out at me. And it looked cold. I hadn’t touched it, but I could just sense there was no warmth of life in that delicate form.

            “Jesus, girl,” Sally said. “When you find something, you find something!”

 I shook my head. “Crazy,” I said. It was a hot day, but I began shivering.

I was shocked. I was scared. But I was also curious. Sally stared as I got on my hands and knees and crawled back towards the box. I stretched in a tentative hand and lifted the top fold of cloth. I saw the baby was naked and pink. And that it was a girl. I sniffed. She gave off a faint soapy smell, like she’d been just washed.

 I had a sudden longing to touch her. It was instinctive. I wanted to comfort her, to tell her not to be frightened, to say that there must be some mistake and that it would be all right.

I stared at the baby’s hands. She had the same perfectly formed tiny fingers and faintly pink nails as Cassandra. “Cassie,” I said. For me, that became the dead baby’s name.

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