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  • Before Dawn Breaks

    • shortstory

                  Suffering with a migraine straight from the pit of hell, I decided to turn in early. My mom, Rachel, didn’t believe I had a headache.  In fact, she never believed me when I claimed one of my classic “it hurts so bad I’m going to be sick any moment, someone please turn out the light” headaches. She thought it was an excuse to get out of chores or homework, so as usual she was angry with me. Oh well, such was life.

                  I had a Chemistry final the next day and I couldn’t afford to miss school again.  So downing a couple of extra-strength Excedrin, shutting out the lights and draping a cold wash cloth over my face seemed like the perfect solution.  At quarter to seven, I drenched a rag in cold water and stuck it in the freezer to get as cold as possible. I washed some Excedrin down with a glass of milk since I was skipping dinner, grabbed the rag from the freezer and headed to bed.

                  I didn’t realize I had fallen asleep. It felt like I was feeling my way around a quiet, fog covered forest when I suddenly heard a distant but familiar sound. As I stumbled about, the sound got louder and I began to make out the word, “Sam.” That’s weird, who would be calling my name out here.

                  Louder, the voice called to me, “Samantha.”

                  I heard myself groan and felt myself shift as I realized I was not in a forest but was lying in my soft, comfortable bed with the cold rag still over my face. I peeked under the rag and noticed it was still very dark outside. Oh! Please tell me mom is not yelling for me again.

                  “Samantha Jane,” she hollered, “I need you out here, now!”

                  Oh, for crying out loud. What could she possible need at this hour? It’s has to be what, midnight, 1 am. Head still hurting, I dragged myself out of bed and stomped into the living room. “What?” I shrieked as loud as my throbbing head would allow.

                  “Would you please see what that dreadful dog is barking at?”

                  Seriously, she is 5 feet away from the door. Why in the world does she have to wake me up? She has two legs, two arms and a thinking brain. Couldn’t she have gotten up, walked the 5 feet and checked for herself? I can’t wait ‘til I’m 18! I’m so out here. The familiar mental tapes replayed over and over as I headed for the door.

                  I flung open the door to yell at the stupid dog and stopped cold. I barely noticed the sharp intake of air as I let out blood curdling scream. My mom moved faster than she ever had and was by my side in an instant. “What’s wrong? What is it, Sam?” she frantically yelled as she tugged my arm.

                  I couldn’t speak for the screams coming uncontrollably out of mouth from the center of my soul. I raised my arm and pointed. My mom followed my raised hand to the oak tree in our front yard. Seeing for the first time what I had a moment ago, she screamed herself and collapsed to the ground. There, in the middle of the yard, Michael, my brother, was hanging from the majestic tree. His hands and feet were hog-tied behind his back. My mind did not want to comprehend what my eyes were seeing. This couldn’t be happening. Michael didn’t even live in our sleepy little back-water town anymore. He had run away to Denver a couple of years back in search of father who wanted nothing to do with him and we hadn’t seen him since.

                  I’m not sure how long I stood there transfixed and screaming, or how long my mom sat rocking and wailing on the floor beside me. It could have been seconds, maybe minutes or even hours for all I knew. It wasn’t until our neighbor, Martin, slapped me across the face that I snapped out it. Stunned by the slap I looked away from the grotesque site of my dead brother and stared blankly at Martin. Where had he come from? I didn’t hear or see him or his wife, Wanda, walk up.

                  The howl of sirens echoed in the night mixing with my mom’s cries. As I continued to stare at Martin and the sounds of the sirens drew closer, I realized they were coming for my brother. Then I fell to the ground alongside my mother and wept.


                  It had been a week since the gruesome discovery of Michael’s body. Martin and Wanda were extremely helpful. They called my older sister, Ruth Ann and gave her the news. They put us up in their spare bedroom because we simply couldn’t stay in our house after that. Wanda made sure we tried to eat and drink something later that day. They sat with us after the police left, cried with us, and prayed over us.

    Ruth Ann drove into town the next morning. By the time she made it to the Blake’s house that afternoon, I had pulled myself together enough to help with funeral arrangements. Mom was inconsolable. When she wasn’t screaming, she was crying or moaning. She was cursing God, blaming Him for not saving her only son. She refused to eat and was having trouble sleeping due to nightmares. Doc James finally had to prescribe Ambien to help her sleep and Xanax for anxiety.

    The coroner released Michael’s body to West Haven Funeral Home the day after the official autopsy report had been issued to the lead homicide detective, Patrick Washington, and the district attorney’s office for Wharton County, TX.  Two days later, 10/22/1987, a week and a half after his 21st birthday, we buried my brother.


                   My sister insisted that we move in with her while my mom figured out what she wanted to do about the house. She couldn’t bring herself to go back there especially with that horrible death tree looming over the house. The tree that she used to love sitting under in the summer while she read her latest mystery novel, the same tree we use to swing from on a tire swing when we were kids was now at the center of her nightmares. If she decided to move back to the house, the tree had to go.

                   Three months after funeral we were still living with my sister. I was back in school and Ruth Ann was back at work. Mom rarely left her room or bed. The hunt for Michael’s killer had hit a dead end. Detective Washington was clearly frustrated as he relayed the news. “I don’t know what to tell Mrs. Cooper. We have exhausted all leads at this time. The one suspect we had in our sights has an air-tight alibi. There isn’t any more we can do right now unless someone comes forward admitting to the crime or at least knowing something about it or something new develops. I am so sorry for your loss.”

                   I hadn’t seen my mother cry since Doc James gave her the pills but, when she heard the case had stalled, she broke down again. “A parent should never have to bury their child, never! Get out! Get out, now! You and your department have done nothing to find justice for my boy! Is this what my tax dollars are paying for?”

                   “Mom, stop it! This is not the detective’s fault. They are doing everything…”

                   “Oh, shut up! Just shut up the both of you! I can’t, I can’t… I just can’t!” She turned and walked away leaving me there with the detective in the living room. Once again, she retreated to her room to cry in private.

                   “I’m so sorry Detective Washington…”

                   “Please call me Patrick.”

                   “Okay, Patrick. I’m sorry my mother lashed out at you. She doesn’t mean it.”

                   “No apologies necessary. I know what she is going through. Five years ago I lost my little girl to a drunk driver. Losing a child is the worst kind of pain a person can go through. I only made it through because of my faith in Jesus and the love and prayers of family and friends. I knew Jesus wept with me over the loss of my baby.”

                   “Mom blames God for not saving Michael. I don’t know if she’ll ever go to church or pray again.”

                   “Well, I’ll pray for you both and for your family. Find a way to lean on Him. It won’t take the pain away but it will bring you a peace that surpasses all understanding and the strength to get to the next day. One day you will be able to remember your brother with joy instead of sorrow.”

                   “Thank you Patrick, that means a lot to me. Please let me know if anything new develops.”

                   “Of course I will. Take care of yourself, Samantha, and your mom.”

                   “I will.”


                  By the time valentine’s day rolled around there still had not been any new developments in my brother’s case but things had home seemed to be slowly improving. We were still living with Ruth Ann while our house was on the market. My mom was slowly becoming her old self again, even though she had taken early retirement. She had stopped taking the pills and was back to getting up early in the mornings to have her coffee and read. She was also back to her old habit of waking me up at the crack of dawn to get her said coffee.

                  A week and a half before my 18th birthday, when I woke up at 6:30 in the morning on my own rather than at 5:00 to her yelling for me, I was confused.  It was eerily quiet in the house as I grabbed my robe. My sister was away at a conference all week and wasn’t due back until later that night. 

                  I went to my mom’s room first to see if she had slept in this morning. She wasn’t there so I headed downstairs to see if maybe she had decided to let me sleep in and gotten her own coffee. She was sitting at the kitchen table with her head down as if praying. Something in the pit of my stomach told me she wasn’t. “Mom,” I whispered, “are you okay.”

                  No answer. No movement.

                  Something was off. I just knew it. As I approached from behind I noticed her right arm was hanging at her side and beneath her hand, lying on the floor was my sister’s handgun. I was frozen for a split second as the realization that my mom had committed suicide sunk in… “NO!” I screamed.

                  I screamed again, but this time I realized I was back in my bed. Confused, I stifled the next scream as I collected my thoughts. That was a dream! A stupid, awful, vivid dream! Ugh!

                  Then, I heard it, the sound of my mother’s familiar yell. “Samantha Jane!”

                  I jumped out of bed both relieved and annoyed. I was relieved that it had just been a terrible nightmare. I was relieved that my mother and brother were still alive. Yet, I was annoyed because it had been an exhausting nightmare that had done nothing to ease my raging headache. I rushed into the dining room. “What?” I yelled.

                  “Would you please see what that dreadful dog is barking at?”

                  “Um, what did you just say?”

                  “Can you please see what that…”

                  “No, no I can’t. You want to know what that dog is barking at you get up and look for yourself!” I broke down in tears. When I collected myself enough to speak, I explained my nightmare and subsequent outburst to my confused mother.


    © Rebekah L. Hicks 2018


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