Aftermath Excerpt

AFTERMATH  2015 Rachel Trautmiller

PROLOGUE

Journal Entry #307
Age: 29

LIFE IS MADE up of moments.

We chronicle them every day. Every second accounted for somewhere in our minds.
A cool breeze against our skin. Soft rain that lands on our heads and clothing in pittering patterns. The scorching heat forcing us to seek shelter. And wet our lips with a refreshing drink.

The bitter cold as it bites at the tenderness of our flesh.

The touch of skin-on-skin. Meeting of the eyes—clear, resounding and sure, and then a little bit shy. Electricity that travels from heart to organs and back. A rush we are unaware of ninety percent of the time. Tingling in our extremities, so intense, it feels as if we might cease breathing altogether.

A moment could change it all.

Maybe it’s an accident. Call it fate. Or Divine intervention.
Whatever you choose, would you know if this moment were gone?

Don’t answer.

Don’t even think about the question and assume the end result is simple. Very few things in our lives are. The sooner we realize this truth, the better.

There are many ways to achieve a desired result. Perhaps, one way seems better than the other. Will we ever know if our way is right? Will we ever understand if it makes a difference to encompass such knowledge?

How do we obtain a broader view of the world around us, without allowing ourselves to become jaded by that world we wish to view? It is not a war we will fight and win that will bring success, but all the little battles along the way.

Not every endeavor is successful. Lives will be lost. This is the way of things.

The question remains: What would you do differently, if you knew?

###

Three years ago.

LIFE WAS A prison.

And there was only one escape. From the pain. The abuse no one would understand. Monotony that invited no distinction. Hands lending little to no comfort. A hemorrhaging body bleeding dry.

“Porterville. Get it together.” Matt’s stern, deep voice brought the piercing sound of sirens, above the ambulance they called home when on shift. And this was only her second one back—if anyone would call her short reappearance to Char-Meck’s EMS a return. More like the urge to fill a bottomless void. A deficit.

For her and the county.

Yesterday, during the short lulls, Matt had grilled her about an extended trip she hadn’t even taken. And she’d fumbled for answers that should’ve been readily available.
Today, that wasn’t the case. And she’d never let it happen again. Never find herself so open to heartbreak. So willing to bare the half-dead, but still beating beast for all to see. To lose another chunk of herself before she realized the truth.

How many times would it take for the lesson to sink in?

A torrential wave of rain smacked the front window. At the wheel, Matt maneuvered around erratic drivers and deciphered dark shapes between the whip of the wiper blades. And the glare of the streetlights on slick, black roadway. He had more reason than normal to get their current patient to the hospital.

Beth had to give him credit for his steady frame of mind.

They’d already delivered three separate accident victims to Mercy Hospital. Two had coded right inside the doors, their efforts futile. The last had been a middle aged man more interested in an argument with his wife than the giant gash near his femoral artery.

This woman’s injuries far outshone any they’d seen tonight. Beth’s gloved hands were doused in red, the woman’s clothing much the same.
Or it had been before they’d cut her fancy blouse and skirt away. And pried her injured and incoherent husband from around her body. Forced him into a second ambulance, all while he screamed her name.

Lilly!

The urgency of their alarm system blared inside Beth’s skull. Low oxygen levels. Heart rate falling. An arrhythmia not consistent with sustainable life. Lacerations covered her from the death sentence on her skull, across her torso, to the probable broken bones of her left arm and leg. There would be scarring. A reminder the events of tonight had taken place.

Which were worse, external or internal wounds?

“Don’t lose her. He’s counting on us.” Matt’s voice held a tinge of panic. “We need some good news tonight.”

The emotion skittered inside her body, when it had no place in this environment. A hollow image of a breathless infant pushed for precedence. Judging from the swell of this woman’s—Lilly’s—abdomen, her baby had little chance of survival outside the womb.
Beth finished packing Lilly’s head wound. Grabbed a dose of Epi from her supply box.

Losing three patients, and this one in particular, in one day, might do her team in. She squeezed her eyes shut a second. Matt wasn’t her team anymore. She swallowed a healthy dose of saliva. Steadied hands that never shook. “Mercy knows we’ve got a head trauma, right?”

“Hold tight.” Matt gripped the wheel. Their vehicle swerved to miss an oblivious driver. Beth braced for the sudden shift and administered the drug into Lilly’s IV. Then she charged the paddles. And readied her intubation kit.

“Does your mom have hours at the hospital, tonight?”

“Yes.” Beth knew the schedule better than when she’d take her next breath. If anyone could patch Lilly’s brain back together, it would be Dr. Sandra Porterville. And as long as she and Beth didn’t cross paths, they’d be fine. “We’re gonna need a pediatric surgeon if we can’t get her stable. This baby is too young to survive out here.”

The monitor screeched about V-tach. She placed the paddles on Lilly’s chest. Her muscles contracted. No change.

Damn it. She should have stayed home. Oblivious to the world around her. Stuck in things she couldn’t undo. Worked to avoid a mother who saw through her on a good day. Not to the heart of things, but flaws the other woman couldn’t stomach.

Beth shocked again. A flat line followed. Loud and final. How long did they have before the baby ran out of oxygen? She shook her head. They weren’t losing her. “Matt, you ever gonna get us to Mercy’s bay or what?”

“Two minutes out.” The unsure warble of fear still clung to his syllables. “That baby’s gonna need a momma.”

Beth didn’t know if she believed that. Didn’t have time to ponder it. A lot could happen in seconds. She grabbed her Bougie and slid it between Lilly’s vocal chords. Eased the endotracheal tube over it. Gave two breaths with an Ambu bag. Then started in on compressions. Her arms and back protested the motion she’d repeated too many times, in the last two hours.

“Talk to me, Beth. I want to know if she’s not gonna make it, so I can…”
Do what? Cry in a corner over a family member? Lose his head? Tell himself she didn’t have a chance?

Had the doctors looked at Beth’s child that way? Assessed the damage and seen a lost cause? Nothing worthy of hope. Of saving.

It wasn’t happening here. One push turned into another. A rhythm she’d become familiar with. A comfort, even, in this insane ride of life. “Come on, Lilly. Don’t quit on me.”

Beth’s muscles were cramping. Stopping was not an option. She paused long enough to grab another dose of Epi and pushed two breaths into Lilly’s lungs. Then sent the drug surging through her veins.

Prayed for a miracle she no longer believed in.

###

IT HAD COME to this.

Appeal after appeal had done little but waste time. Eat away at the money in her trust fund quicker than a junkie blows through a stash and goes looking for more.

If the substantial amount of money, thrown into one of the oldest banks in Charlotte, upon her birth, had been split two ways, as intended, it would have depleted much quicker.

Lined the pockets of her defense attorney at the same exponential rate, but left her rotting and alone a long time before today.

In any event, she was alone. She was still going to die.

In her youth, she’d sometimes wished for the end of things. The high society family that was anything but the real definition. A shiny, red apple, gleaming as if polished to perfection. Begging for someone to taste the sweet fruit and find satiating nutrients.

Inside, poison lurked, the sweetness gone. Mush remained. Left the unsuspecting wondering why they’d even bothered. Or how they’d ever been fooled. The admonition was usually too late. An afterthought as eyes closed for the last time.

In her world, the ultimate last laugh.

A powerful surge of energy coursing through her veins. Vindication she couldn’t manufacture with apologies. Numbness she couldn’t achieve with drug or drink. The only time the past wasn’t on constant repeat, a photo-slide of sick moments that didn’t give rest for the weary.

“Do you understand what I’m saying, Mrs. Markel?” Her lawyer, in a pressed Armani suit, sat in front of her. He shoved a sheet of paper in her direction, but didn’t move his hand within her immediate reach. “This is very serious. We have fourteen days to work on a stay.”

A tickle of laughter edged up her esophagus before she squelched it. There was no miraculous stay on her death. No we. Or hope. Only a lawyer looking to make money. And he couldn’t do that with her dead. Had probably expected her death row visit to last much longer, so he could milk her for every penny.

The gleam of it twinkled in his eyes. She understood it. Had used the logic to survive.

To exact retribution.

While no one would die at his hands, per se, he was using her for personal gain. She was a means he didn’t want to end. And she couldn’t say she blamed him.
From this angle, extortion was legal.

At the end of the day, he probably didn’t feel all that bad. Maybe went home to his wife and two perfect kids, in a cute brownstone, with a Labrador and patted himself on the back.

Job well done.

Suggest an appeal here. There. A visit to discuss issues. Time was money. And, really, he was doing her a favor. Society a favor.

“Bethany.” His voice was businesslike, but a hint of revulsion crept beneath the syllables.

What good was a trust fund, anyway? When she was gone it would go to a thirteen-year-old who probably had everything she ever wanted in life already. An anonymous donation she’d set up through the lawyer in front of her, only last month.

“Senator Nettles could get the ear of someone in Washington, if you asked. He’s done a lot of good for North Carolina. People trust him.” Armani Lawyer pulled the edge of one sleeve back, revealing a silver watch.

Beth hadn’t bothered to commit his name to memory. Hadn’t wanted to taste it on her tongue, even though he’d been with her since her trial days.

He nudged the document closer to her. “We can arrange a meeting with him, if you’d like.”

Not happening.

The Correctional Officers, stationed in each corner of the room, watched as she touched the heavy, white paper. The Attorney General’s seal sat in one corner, a stamp of finality.

The lawyer watched her, too. Silent. Maybe he was waiting for an outburst. Or tears. Something to let him know a normal human still lurked beneath her thin body and skin. Under dark hair that had grown much longer than she liked. Nails without a manicure. An impersonal orange jumper.

Like everyone else, he didn’t understand that she was much better here. Not destined to turn into the daughter her mother had always wanted. Live out a complete lie. And die a slow death while encased in foreign flesh and bone.

The Chaplin of the Central Prison and North Carolina Correction Institution for Women passed by the window looking out from the dayroom, in which, they sat. A permanent blank expression rested on Dexter Knight’s face. Deep blue eyes—almost violet in color—faced forward. Light brown hair was cut military style, perpetuating the rumor that he’d served in the armed forces at some point.

The Marines, whispers among the cells surrounding hers bet. They might be right. He was enough of serious brooding to have commanded his troops with calm efficiency. And still…

The quiet ways about him suggested a deep sadness and peace. The latter was typical of his profession. The former was an intricate puzzle that might keep her busy.

If she cared enough.

He was different. Never carried the book men of his faith liked to wield. Hadn’t thrown Holy water on her and asked the devil to leave.

No, he sat, in silence for fifteen minutes, four days a week. Didn’t do that with everybody, but followed each inmate’s lead. Sometimes those fifteen minutes made her want to scream. And sometimes she thought about opening her mouth.

What good would it do?

It wasn’t as if she had an explanation. Defense was futile. A lesson she’d learned a long time ago. And never veered from.

There was only one thing she had to do before she died. It didn’t include spilling her thoughts to a Chaplin who believed she would rot in hell, even if she fell on her face and begged for forgiveness until she could no longer speak.

Beth knew where those encounters led. Didn’t relish the idea of a swift kick to the teeth.

“If the execution is set for May fifteenth, when do I move to death watch at Central Prison?”

PRE-ORDER HERE.

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Mixing murder, mayhem and romance that's sure to keep you coming back.

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