Authors: Lindsey Goddard
Ashes of Another Life
Lindsey Beth Goddard
Ashes of Another Life
Copyright © 2016 Lindsey Beth Goddard
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the author and publisher omniumgatherumedia.com.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
First Electronic Edition
To my mother and father, my husband of twelve years, and our three children. I love you.
The highway uncurled behind Randall Sykes, a long, gray ribbon in his rear-view mirror. He caught a glimpse of his reflection—steely black eyes, hair blacker still. He frowned at his clean-shaven, olive complexion.
Is this why you try so hard to please them? Your face? Your face, the cause of so much shame?
Dark eyes and ebony hair had plagued his mother’s side of the family for generations, dating back to her great-grandfather’s father. Even worse was his bronze skin tone, for dark pigment was a punishment from God. Though he wasn’t dark enough to be shunned, he’d spent his childhood pondering what had brought such a curse on his family.
By now, he’d grown accustomed to the whispers. The town itself was fueled by fake smiles and hushed gossip. Everywhere quiet circles gathered, observing, passing silent messages down the line. That’s how everyone managed to “keep sweet” and never wander from the righteous path. They kept constant tabs on one another. When their scrutinizing eyes turned to Randall and his family, he already knew what they were thinking:
You look different. Is your bloodline impure? Are you, or aren’t you, one of us?
. Deep down, he
He zipped along the mountainous terrain between cliffs that broke the horizon at odd angles like crooked teeth jutting up from the earth. The sky was a cloudless, cobalt blue, and beneath it, he was humbled and awed. There were no other cars on the road—just Randall—and as the wind beat a rhythm on the Jeep Cherokee’s frame and its tires hissed along the pavement, the world beyond his vehicle was a picture of serenity. Dirt swirled around the old SUV, and he thought
I’ll have to wash it when I get home
. But for now, he was content to sit back and soak up the sun’s warmth, breathing deep the rich, earthy smell of freedom.
It was a gorgeous Arizona morning. The cliffs in this area were mostly barren, layered with shades of orange, brown and red as they towered over the desert plane. Sparse plant-life provided the occasional splash of green. A warm breeze stirred his hair, and he had to admit—he loved this.
He loved being “all by his lonesome,” as they say. In nineteen years of life, he’d never had the chance. At first he’d been scared to leave home, but now, he was
Out here on his own, and he felt so—free. Light and easy, like he could float away into the sky and never return.
He grimaced and shook his head. Daydreaming was for children. Damn him. He was supposed to be a man. He squeezed the steering wheel tighter as if it would help him get a firmer grip on reality. He’d been working construction jobs for six years now, and every bit of him was muscled and lean. He was built like a man, but his mind—well—sometimes it veered off course.
He pictured the family photograph in his bedroom back home, Father posed in the center flanked by his four wives and fifteen children. Pride was etched in every feature of Father’s face. His eyes, stern but soft, his high cheekbones, mirrored in the smaller faces all around him. Sometimes Randall would stare at that photo and wonder, “How will this ever be me?”
Priesthood awaited. The prophet would provide him with wives to bear him children, assuring his place in Heaven. Yet sometimes it was too much for him to wrap his head around, and at the moment, he felt his muscles let go and his heart begin to lighten. He took a deep breath and let it out. He pressed his foot a little harder on the gas pedal and let the wind whip his hair. The needle swept across the arch of the speedometer gauge.
Look at me go
He hadn’t forgotten the reason for this excursion or the mission he’d promised to complete. He hadn’t forgotten his townspeople, who counted on him to return. But for now, he was alone on the highway with miles ahead of him, and he cranked the windows down and let the wind hit him full blast.
Randall pulled into the parking lot ahead of schedule. He felt a twinge of pride at making good time, but he quickly shrugged it off.
Not done yet.
He grabbed a notepad from the passenger seat. Its yellowed pages were filled with his own chicken scratch handwriting, where he’d scrawled directions earlier that day. He glanced up at the address on the brown brick building, then compared it to the numbers on the paper. A perfect match. Larry’s instructions had been flawless.
His eyes scanned the page down to the last line, where the words “Yellow Dodge Neon” were underlined. He surveyed the parking lot, searching for a matching car, and—bingo—spotted one in the far corner.
The little car was mostly hidden by a cement pillar. The front and back ends barely poked out. It was hard to tell the exact make and model from a distance, but it was the only yellow vehicle on the lot.
Randall circled around and idled as he approached the empty car. The neighboring spot was vacant, as if reserved just for Randall. His skin flushed with warmth (partly nerves, partly pride).
God provides for his chosen children.
He cut the wheel and pulled into the spot.
In thy prophet’s name, oh Father, I am your Almighty will made flesh and bone.
He sat there for a long time, staring at the office building, then at the little sedan. He tried to slow the beating of his heart. He was eager to finish what hadn’t begun.
His wristwatch slowly ticked off seconds as he cursed Larry Steed. Larry, the eyes and ears of their community, who had watched the woman climb into her yellow dodge Neon every day at lunchtime for a week. Larry, who wasn’t man enough to do this himself.
He patted his slacks and felt the reassuring shape of the switchblade in his pocket; cupped his side and felt the gun holstered there.
I hope I don’t have to use either one
The woman needs to talk, simple as that.
He pulled the gun from the holster, checked to make sure the chamber was full and slid it beneath his vest. His hands shook.
Nerves, just nerves.
He cracked his knuckles. He didn’t
to hurt the woman. He’d never had
desire to take a human life, but he was not afraid to, and God would not mourn her passing.
He’d seen the candid photos Larry had snapped of the woman, with her short blonde hair and knee-length skirts, approaching her car each day. He’d seen them and thought,
She’s so pretty.
He tried to convince himself it wasn’t true, but he couldn’t.
Her hair is too short and she wears such wicked clothes, but her face… it’s nice. I like the look of it. Can I harm her? If I have to? Can I harm a young, pretty woman like that? She’s my only link to Tara Jane, my only hope of pleasing the prophet.
Randall realized he was still clutching the knife through his pants. He gulped and loosened his grip. He wiped sweat from his brow with the end of his long-sleeved shirt and scanned the parking lot for people. Assuring himself he would not be seen, Randall quietly exited the Cherokee.
He couldn’t imagine forcing an unwilling passenger through the door of the SUV. Too tall. It would cause a struggle, and that would give the woman time to scream. No… He’d spotted the piles of laundry in her backseat, and now he had a better plan.
He approached the compact car and tried the door. It opened. This is so easy, he thought. The empty parking spot, the laundry, the unlocked door. I’m being guided by His unseen hands, aided by the Father above.
The backseat was cramped. Stuffed side by side were two large baskets of unfolded laundry and another basket of neatly folded clothes. He crammed himself between them, ducked below the windows, and quickly set to work dumping the unfolded garments on himself. If she noticed the mess, she’d probably think the baskets had spilled during her morning drive.
Please let this work
, he prayed
I submit unto thee my servitude in exchange for thy Heavenly aid. Let this work. Let her get into the car. Let no Gentile divert my righteous path.
He covered his face with the laundry. It smelled good, and a twinge of dread pinched his heart. He’d never taken a life before. He didn’t want to. He hoped it wouldn’t come to that.
Tara Jane perched on the edge of her seat. She twiddled her thumbs, watching the two digits trace endless circles around each other. She was afraid to look up, afraid to meet the school counselor’s inquisitive dark eyes with her own, always on the verge of tears.
“How are you doing, Tara Jane?”
She looked up and tried to smile, but it wasn’t as convincing as she’d hoped. It only seemed to sadden Ms. Martinez, who put an elbow on her desk and cradled her chin in her hand. She ran a slender, olive-colored finger across her cheek while studying Tara Jane.
“I’m doing well,” she lied. Her stomach did a flip. She didn’t want to talk about herself, about her past. She longed to forget the house in Sweet Springs with its pale blue shutters, its hardwood floors scuffed and worn from constant traffic.
It’s gone now. All gone, she thought.
The woman wove her fingers together in front of her on the desk and leaned forward. “Are you adjusting all right? Is there anything I can do?”
She started to force a smile but let it slip when she remembered Ms. Martinez wouldn’t fall for it. “I’m fine, thank you.”
“The school nurse tells me you fell…”
She waited a moment, expecting Mrs. Martinez to continue. The woman locked her in a chocolate brown stare, smoothing glossy black hair behind her ear, and Tara Jane realized it must be her turn to speak. “I got woozy. I’ll be fine after I go home and get some rest. I’ve been tired. Really tired, that’s all.”
“She also said you haven’t been eating…” Heat rushed to Tara Jane’s face. Self-betrayal burned in her gut.
Why did I open my big, fat mouth?
She took a deep breath and let it out. “Well, that’s true. I haven’t had much of an appetite. But I promise, I will try to eat something when I get home. I know everyone is concerned.”
Mrs. Martinez leaned back with a skeptical squint of her eyes. “How is your foster family working out? Are you happy in your new home?”
Tara Jane blinked, caught off-guard by the question. She shook her head. “Oh, there’s nothing wrong at home, Ms. Martinez. Believe me. The McKelveys are great people, really.”
“Then what is it, Tara Jane? Something is eating you up. I can see it. Your eyes look exhausted. And the loss of appetite? That’s the post-traumatic stress, and it’s wearing you down.”
A lump formed in her throat as thoughts raced through her mind, words that never reached the tip of her tongue. She’d been raised to stay quiet, or “keep sweet” as her former community had called it. Those two words—keep sweet— loomed over everything she did. The phrase sounded simple enough to outsiders looking in, but to those who knew better, the meaning was clear: “Shut your mouth. Stuff your troubles down inside you. Lock them away, where they belong. Never speak ill of us.”