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Authors: Cynthia Tottleben

The Eye Unseen

BOOK: The Eye Unseen
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The Eye Unseen




Cynthia Tottleben






San Francisco





Copyright © 2014 by Cynthia Tottleben


All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.


This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, names, incidents, organizations, and dialogue in this novel are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.


JournalStone books may be ordered through booksellers or by contacting:




The views expressed in this work are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher, and the publisher hereby disclaims any responsibility for them.





Library of Congress Control Number:


Printed in the United States of America

JournalStone rev. date: January 17, 2014


Cover Design:
Denise Daniel

Cover Art:
M. Wayne Miller

Edited by:
Dr. Michael R. Collings




For my mother, Carolyn Houck, who would want the world to know she is not the model for the character in this book. You have blessed me with many wonderful days, not to exclude the incident with the ghetto blaster or your warped gingerbread houses. Thanks for being my greatest supporter.







I cannot thank my writing group enough. The members of the Quad Cities RWA who have tolerated my high drama and bloodbaths despite their gentle natures: Theresa Davis, Jan LaRoche, Jan Steffens, Crystal Donahue, Ellen Tsagaris, you are a fantastic group and have taught me a tremendous amount about the craft.


My beta readers, Maria Del Mar Carrasquillo, Judy Brosche, Kerri Miller Ebright, your help and input have been invaluable. Thank you for taking the time to read and let me bounce ideas off you!

Howard Olson, the quiet keeper of Rancid, has tried to lead me in the right direction though I often refuse to follow. I appreciate all of your support. You are an excellent friend.


Ann Pierson D’Angelo, who has endured the bone-chilling neediness of my offbeat creative talents since she performed my piano composition in high school. Thank you for listening, reading, giving feedback, and inspiring me with your artistic talents.


Simon Wood and CJ West, my Bouchercon buddies, who never hesitate to answer my questions or dole out advice and encouragement, you guys are the best!


I am forever indebted to the crew at JournalStone Publishing for their patience while I’ve learned the ropes: Patrick Freivald, fellow author, kind enough to take me under his wings, my editor Dr. Michael Collings, for not only his hard work on my project, but the headache of breaking in a newbie. And, finally, to Christopher Payne for giving me this opportunity.






Chapter 1






The prelude was subtle, as insidious as a gradual infection. For the past several months Mom had done a slow waltz around the sanity drain, the mutations in her behavior spreading like tumors through all of our lives.

But the snap was instantaneous. The flick of a match. A camera capturing an image.

Nuclear detonation.

I could see it in her eyes. Like someone had finally turned on the garbage disposal and cleared out the bits and pieces of her that still existed. A flip of the switch, and Mom was all but gone, mush corroding somewhere at the bottom of a pipe, barely a remnant of the woman I remembered.

She came at me fast, pinned me against the wall. I dared not fight, for I knew the repercussions. I had experienced them once months ago and still trembled each time I approached the shed in the back yard. Looking out the sliding glass doors I could see the building cast shadows across the grass, inviting me back in.

Tippy ran up beside us, her nails clattering on the linoleum as she hurried to my rescue. I mentally scolded her as she began barking, but Mom was on her in a flash. I watched as she kicked my miniature dachshund and sent her flying next to the kitchen table, Tippy whining and then running off in a panic. She couldn’t protect me from my mother and both of us knew it.

Tippy was much better off in the other room. While I appreciated her efforts, I was also so embarrassed by my predicament that I didn’t want her to witness it.

The left side of Mom’s mouth curled up in a sardonic grin. My flesh shivered as her expression broadened into a twisted sort of joy. I half expected her tongue to flick in and out of her mouth like a snake’s.

The first slap stung as Mom’s hand found my face. I had anticipated it the moment Mom walked in the door and challenged me with her stare, the second I felt the air shift in the kitchen with her approach. My toes ached from walking on constant egg shells, and for a second I was relieved that the violence had finally begun.

“Your coach called me at work,” Mom announced, her words coated in bile.

I could taste the rotten stench as it crept out of her mouth, a blend of soured milk and eggs left in the heat for three days. With anyone else I would have politely walked away and wrapped my long hair under my nose to filter out the nastiness. But with her I lacked such freedom.

I stood chest to chest with her. A voice punctuated my panic, screamed up my spine that I could poke my fingers in her eyes, kick her in the jaw as she flailed around blindly. But that thought caused my legs to jerk and I almost fell in place, Mom pulling me back up by my hair. She pressed her palms flat against the wallpaper, directly over my shoulders. I was wary that both hands might jump out at me as our interrogation proceeded, for they often worked as if they had a life of their own.

“I’m sorry, Mom.” I tried not to move. I struggled not to vomit from the odor that oozed out of her pores, came at me on her dragon’s breath.

“Do you know how embarrassing that was?” Mom’s body scooted a quarter of an inch closer to mine. “Not knowing that your daughter had quit the team?”

My instinct was to run. Open the sliding door, escape the treachery of the outbuildings, flee like the deer into the rows of corn that bordered our side yard.

But I knew better. Mom no longer had boundaries. Even if she couldn’t catch me on foot, I didn’t doubt she’d come after me with her car or even the shotgun. Although our land in rural Iowa had plenty of hiding spots, I didn’t want to live like the animals in the woods that adjoined our property, hiding in the trees, always on high alert.

Constantly waiting for someone to kill me.

“I didn’t know what else to do. I’m sorry.”

I gripped the kitchen chair, waited for the pain to come. Again.

“I’m ashamed of you, Lucy. School hasn’t even started yet and already you’re in trouble?”

The worst part of her psychosis was trying to squeeze the truth in between the walls of Mom’s irrationality.

“I’m sorry. The other kids, they were talking about me….”

Her hand switched to my neck. I flinched when I thought she would slap me, but instead she traced the edge of my mouth with her index finger and then spidered her whole hand across my jaw until it settled with her thumb stroking my jugular.

“Yes?” Mom directed me to finish.

I didn’t want to answer. I contemplated lying but knew that Mom would see straight through that. Making up even half-truths had never been a skill of mine.

“They were looking at…and the coach….”

“Lucinda Shay Tew, you have about ten seconds to spit it out before I get really mad.”

Fingernails bit into my skin. Mom’s face was no longer just florid with anger, but I could tell she had started to enjoy this. My suffering. Tippy, whimpering in the background. All three of us knowing that soon that would be me as well.

Brandy has always told me not to talk about it. To tell no one but her what really went on in our house. Not to even acknowledge the abuse to Mom.

 Of course, my sister was immune to the cruelty. Her worst offenses were my bruises. Even when she’d snuck out one hot August night, taken Mom’s car and driven to the quarry to hang with her friends, she was sent to her room while I endured the punishment. Mom could never believe Brandy had flaws. Brandy preferred not to rock the boat.

Then again, she had never joined the swim team and couldn’t be blamed for my current condition.

I couldn’t pad the truth. The situation with Mom was lose-lose.

“I could hear them talking about my bruises,” I began.

This time my head bounced off the wall.

Mom moved back a step, uncurled her fist, and rubbed her knuckles. All expression exited her face.

“What bruises, Lucy?”

“Mom, please. You know.” Shame catapulted through my entire system. I couldn’t believe we were having this conversation.

“No, Lucy, I don’t.”

At school the girls talked about everyone, even their own best friends. In the locker room I had listened to many of these conversations, virtually unseen as I showered and changed after practice. But lately when I entered the pool area or hit the showers, all chatting stopped. Even among the boys. On the day I quit, I had dared to glance at my own skin. All I could see was the imprint of Mom’s fingers colored onto my thigh.

“Please, Mom. People notice, on the swim team. It’s not like I can wear a full body suit in the pool. I had to quit. What if the coach called someone?”

I closed my eyes for a second and waited for the blow that did not come. Instead Mom moved her hand under my chin, pulled my face up so that I had to look directly into her mad eyes.

“Say it, Lucy.” The words slithered out and curled alongside my face. My belly lurched from the odor. “What do people notice?”

Brandy had warned me never to talk about it.

“The bruises you gave me.”

Brandy was right.

This time when my head hit the wall it left an indentation.


*  *  *


BOOK: The Eye Unseen
3.49Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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