I'm posting the first chapter of my work in progress, THE END OF SUMMER. The book is a mystery/suspense novel about a damaged woman, a Sheriff's Detective in the Ozarks, finding brutal killers and defending the love she thought she would never have. A warning though, Katrina William's story does not start in a good place. It begins with the damage that shapes the rest of life. Let me know what you think.
THE END OF SUMMER - Chapter 1
I felt like it was the end of summer. Not that there was a hint of green or the creeping red-oranges of leaves turning. In Iraq everything was brownish. Not even a good, earthy brown. Instead, everything within my view was a uniform, wasted, dun color. It was easy to imagine the creator ending up here on the seventh day. Out of energy and out of ideas after spending his palate in the joy of painting the rest of the world. This spit of earth, the dirty asshole of creation we called the Triangle of Death, didn’t even rate a decent brown.
I had been in country for eight months. I had been First Lieutenant, Katrina Williams, Military Police, attached to the 502nd Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division for a little over a year. Pride and love had brought me here. Proud to be American and just as proud to have come from a military family, I was in love with what the ROTC at Southwest Missouri State University had shown me about my country’s military. I fell in love with the thought of the woman I would become serving my nation. I wanted to echo the men my father and my uncle were and add my own tone to the family history. Iraq bled that all out of me. Just like it was bleeding my color out into the dust. Bright red draining into shit brown.
It was the impending weight of change that made me feel like the end of summer. As a girl, back home in the Ozarks, the summers seemed to last forever. It wasn’t until the final days, carried over even into a new school year, when the air cooled and the oaks rusted that I could feel them ending. Their endings were like the descent of ice ages, the shift of epochs. That was exactly how I felt bleeding into the dirt. The difference was that I felt an impending death rather than transition. The terminus of an epoch. In Iraq though, nothing was as clear as that. It was death; but it wasn’t.
Lying on my back, I wished I could see blue sky but not here. The air was hazed with dust so used up it became a part of the sky. There was no more of the earth in it. Grit like bad memories and regret hanging over an entire nation. I coughed hard and it hurt. A bubbly thickness slithered up my throat. Using my tongue and what breath I had, I got the slimy mass up to my lips. I just didn’t have it in me to spit. Instead, I turned my head to the side and let the bloody phlegm slide down my cheek.
Dying is hard.
Wind, hot and cradling the homeland sand so many factions were willing to kill over, ran over the wall I was hidden behind. It eddied there, slowing and swirling and then dumping the dirt on my naked skin. A slow motion burial. Even the land here hated naked women.
I stayed there, without moving but slipping in and out of consciousness for a long time. It seemed long anyway. I dreamed. Dreamed or remembered so well they seemed like perfect dreams of—everything.
We played baseball. Just like in old movies with kids turning a lot into a diamond. No one does that anymore but we did. My grandfather played minor league ball years ago and I had a cousin who was a Cardinals fan. Everyone was a Cardinals fan, so I loved the Royals. When the games were over, and it was hotter than the batter’s box when I was pitching—I had a wild arm—my father would take me to the river. Later when we had cars, I was drawn there every summer to swim and swing from the ropes. We floated on old, patched inner tubes and teased boys. That was where I learned to drink beer. My father would take me fishing on the river. My grandfather would take me on the lakes. I used the same cane pole my father had when granddad taught him about fishing. Both of the men used to say to the girl who complained about not catching anything, “It’s not about the catching, it’s about the fishing.” I don’t think I ever understood until a good portion of my blood was spilled on the dirt of a world that hated me.
My head spun back to the moment and back to Iraq. If I was going to die I would have done it already, I figured. At least my body. That physical part of me would live on. Changed with the ice-age changes of the world. That other part of me, the girl who loved summer… I think she was already dead. Death and transition.
It was a huge effort to roll to my side and when I did I saw the stain of my blood. It was already mixed with the dirt, surrendering its color. Everything becoming something less than brown. I wondered about the rest of my color, the auburn of my hair, it turned redder in the sunlight, the pale green of my eyes, and the almost-peach toned spray of freckles that trickled from my nose to the tops of my breasts. Was it going too? All that color, all that life—wasted here.
The worst wound was in my back, below the shoulder blade. The knife had been thrust straight down and hard. There was no telling how bad it was, but it was bad. I had been left for dead after all. Or at least to die. And I’d been left with no weapons. My ACU’s had been cut and stripped away. If soldiers had found me dead, they would assume I was abducted and raped by insurgents. If insurgents found me they would assume another faction was responsible. If I was found alive by any insurgent, I would be raped some more and condemned to die for the sins of being female and American.
The men who had raped me first, who had killed the girl that loved summer, were Americans too. Hating women crosses all borders and faiths. Something all the boys could agree on. They thought they were careful, but I knew who they were. I had seen their hands.
Another gust rippled over the wall dumping a handful of grave dirt over me.
It took a while but I finally rolled completely over and rose to my hands and knees. Every part of me was shaking with the effort. My head throbbed a golden flash of spinning pain and then I vomited.
The word was part of the catalog I began writing in my mind. An inventory was needed to assess chances and options. Concussion. Hole in my back. My rib might be broken.
When my gut seemed ready, I opened my eyes again. The puddle of puke under my face had lost its color to the Iraqi dust making a dark, molted mud. Careful not to put my hands in the mess, I backed away. That was when I felt the cuts in my back side. I remembered the Captain slapping and cutting my ass with the knife as he sodomized me. When he bucked up against me moaning with his release he had stabbed, thrusting the blade deep into my right buttock.
The effort of turning my head back to look, only made the world spin again. Let my head sag so I could down the length of my body. More blood and more cuts. Both of my breasts were tracked with bruises, black finger marks on pale skin. The right one though, had a long gash starting high on my chest and running under the soft flesh causing it to hang lower and at an impossible angle. On my left, the nipple was sliced and twisted.
Scars. So many scars.
The freckles, that had been a part of my identity since I knew to think of myself as separate from my mother, were faded out.
I’m becoming the color of bone.
There was another laceration in the pubic hair, a violent, jagged gash, and a bare strip where the darker red curls had been stripped away.
The Lieutenant’s souvenir.
Blood was flowing, a fresh rush over the sticky, semi-dry coating between my legs. The fresh fluid cut a new path that trickled right down dead white thighs with dark galaxies of bruising. Most of the blood seemed to be coming from my vagina. I recalled the Lieutenant punching between my legs several times before he shoved his fist inside. That ring raking me. Afterward, he said he wanted a lock of hair, like a lover might. He used the Ka-Bar to cut away the strip. With one hand he pulled the hairs tight. With the other, the one with the ring, he cut.
Both of the men had rings. Different years and different designs but the rings came from the same school. They had the good sense not to wear them during patrols but around base the rings were always on display. Everyone knew those rings.
I cried. For a short time or a long one I wasn’t sure. Maybe it was a short time that only seemed equal to all the time I had lived so far. I stayed there on my hands and knees because it hurt too much to move, and I cried. It poured from my frothy lungs, a quiet, keening wail that sounded almost like a meadow lark but there was no answering call.
They were supposed to be on my side. My people. I’ll never know how anyone can survive feeling as alone as I did then. When the tears and the pitiful wailing dried up I was left with just the silence. Eventually even the silence was too great a weight to bear. I started gathering clothes and doing what I could to cover myself. The only thing worse than being raped and left naked behind some mud wall and shack in Iraq, was being found naked in any condition by the local faithful. A naked woman in this part of the world was a whore and whores got no sympathy.
My bra was cut in two and my fatigue shirt was just gone. The T-Shirt was there. More brown. I found my panties down by my feet but someone, the Lieutenant, I assumed, had ejaculated in them. I wouldn’t put those on for anything. I could reach my pants but only found one boot. It didn’t matter; I had to get moving.
The clothes went on slowly. When I pulled the shirt over my head I almost screamed. Fresh blood streaked the cotton.
More color stolen.
It took another five minutes to get pants on.
When I stood, my head lurched again and the guts followed. There was no fighting it. I draped my body over the low wall and puked in hard spasms. Gold star bursts patterned my vision. I smelled bile and copper.
I don’t remember rising again. Nor did I remember walking from the wall. There is a gap in time and place that left me staggering toward a road but away from the village in the distance. If I was any near where I thought I was, there would be a traffic check point in about three kilometers. It could have just as well as been a million. Before I made it a hundred yards down the road, a white dot appeared on the horizon. A vehicle.
If it isn’t green it isn’t safe.
There was a depression in the dirt alongside the road that was almost deep enough to pass for a ditch. It was mostly bare dirt but here and there were bits of trash. No cover.
No choice. I dropped into the dirt. When I hit, something popped in my chest. It was physical and audible and started a cascade of wrenching pain. A doctor told me later a nick in my lung must have torn through. Air was escaping into the chest cavity at the same time that blood was running into the lung. Each breath was a loud, gasping rattle that brought in little air and almost as much dust.
The white pickup truck slowed on shrieking brakes, and then wheeled around after passing. They had seen me. I had seen them. It was a small truck, but it carried three men up front and six in the back. All were armed.
Even over the old engine and bad brakes, even over my own ragged breathing, I could hear the excited shouts of the men.
I said goodbye, in quiet thoughts, to my mother and father. Everyone who had ever done me harm, I forgave, except the men who had put where I was. Then I waited for the real death.
One man jumped down from the truck bed and the others stayed behind shouting. I couldn’t tell if the shouts were instruction or encouragement. The bolt on an AK47 was pulled. All the shouting stopped.
I’m not ready.
The shouting started up again but it was different in tone and urgency. The man with the AK ran back to the truck. He sprayed a wash of rounds at me without aiming as the truck left the road and took off across open ground.
A moment later, I watched as a column of Humvees stopped short of my position. A squad of men piled out and formed a perimeter. A sergeant I had never seen before, stalked up to me with his weapon at the ready. He looked close and long before calling back, “We need a medic and a litter up here.”
THE END OF SUMMER - CHAPTER 1