The Runes (a sneak peek at my next novel)

Prologue

It was like a bur—the kind you get stuck to your clothing crossing a late summer field or side-of-the-road ditch—only, it was stuck to her insides. She could feel it there, burrowing in, deeper each moment, contaminating her blood, feeding on her. Ilene pressed her hands to her stomach until her exposed flesh turned red. Removing her hands, the flesh turned ashen in the shape of her palms and outstretched fingers, like a child’s Thanksgiving turkey decoration. She turned her attention back to the countertop.

Ilene stared at the bottle for a moment and extended her trembling arm. The sweat on her palm made the air feel cold as she opened her clenched fingers. She watched her hand waiver in the air, bobbing like a ship. Pulling her arm back to her chest, Ilene groaned and spun around on her feet.

She pushed past the swinging door, which led from the kitchen into the formal dining room. Ilene glanced at the table and the runner situated in the middle, a long piece of lace, which accentuated the darkness of the mahogany table. A silver candelabrum rested in the center of the runner. Centered between the two large windows behind the table was a mahogany and marble wine rack.

Ilene shook her head as she stumbled past the room and down the corridor toward the front of the house. She stood in the foyer for a moment and thought of leaving. She blinked her eyes as the painfully bright light of the mid-day sun shined through the windows of the foyer. Placing her hand to her head, Ilene turned to lean her back against the door. She couldn’t go out; someone might see her.

She leaned against the outside door. The cold door felt refreshing against her sweating back, but her legs wobbled, and she felt too weak to stand. Ilene slid into a squatting position, her butt resting on the cold wood floor, and her legs spread. She felt a draft blowing up her long skirt which spread between her open legs like a net.

Slamming her fist against the floor, Ilene began to sob. She couldn’t leave because she couldn’t ask for help. No one could know her problem, her weakness. She was a mother, for God’s sake, and the wife of a respected lawyer. What would people think if they knew what I was trying to accomplish?

What would Jason think? Ilene placed her hands to her stomach, feeling the life inside kick against her flesh. She had wanted to kill the thing within her, the child she did not want. What would her husband do if he knew that she was going to drink poison to kill the baby? Pressing her hand against her swollen stomach, Ilene doubted that she even could kill this child.

Ilene began to violently scratch her arms. The pregnancy brought so many changes, not like her first. She broke out in hives, felt nauseous, like her body was allergic to what was growing inside her. After scratching at her burning scalp, she slid down on her hands and knees and crawled along the hall. She paused to look at the mirror. Placing her hands along the wall for support, she climbed up and looked into it. Her auburn hair was tangled and uncombed. The normally straight cut had gained a sense of failed curl and frizz. Her eyes, gold and blue—like a burning ship on the open ocean her husband had always said—were bloodshot and red rimmed. Her lips quivered, seemed pale and thin without lipstick.

She looked to the kitchen door.

Ilene felt her feet moving toward the kitchen before she fully comprehended that she was opening the door. And the bottle was still there. Taunting her. A pain stabbing through her side, Ilene doubled over. It knows! Ilene shuffled across the floor until the bottle was before her. She clasped her shaking hands around it and popped the lid off. She lifted the liquid to her lips, let the cold, sterile feel of the glass caress her. Her breath left vanishing trails of steam across the bottle’s neck.

The startling image of a dead child, bloodied, fallen from her womb, filled her mind for a brief instant, shot through her being like a fishhook in her eye. Ilene lifted the bottle above her head and smashed it to the porcelain sink with a vexed scream. The bottle dispersed into a gleaming explosion, stars of a nighttime sky. The large remains tinkled to the sink bottom, and Ilene watched the golden liquid sink down the drain.

She would have this child, no matter what it was…she couldn’t be sure after all, that it was anything but her own flesh and her husband’s. But she felt something as it moved within her, a malice she had not felt with her precious daughter. From the instant she had known of her existence, she had felt nothing but love. This child was different; this child felt alien.

Ilene took a breath to compose herself. She felt the panic within her abating, pushed deeper down with each calming breath. She released her grasp on the counter, her fingers aching from her clasp. She felt a dribble on her cheek and wiped away a spot of blood. Her mind swam with sudden resolve.

She would let the child live. She would try to love it.

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