You can now purchase Ellis House for $12.95 USD (plus shipping when ordered from the website) and the eBook for $3, $15.95 USD when making a local purchase direct from author, $19.95 CDN when making a local purchase direct from author and $21.95 CDN when purchased from Canadian Bookstores.
Ellis House Excerpt
I’m on my hands and knees in darkness, desperate to find my way in silence. There is no power, no dial tone, and I can hear footsteps above me – pacing, stopping, pacing, stopping. There are two people arguing. I recognize the voice of my husband. The voices crescendo to shouting. Screams. Shattering of glass. No more voices. Only silence.
My chest is so tight it aches. My heart pounds like a violent caged animal against my ribs. I feel the dampness of sweat pooling under my arms and hugging the curve of my spine. It collects on my brow. I wipe it away making my palms slick. I try not to panic. I tell myself to regulate my breathing – slow, deep, and even. I tell myself not to hyperventilate. I need to stay in control. Stay in control. No matter what – stay in control.
Slowly and silently, I ascend the steps, five, six, seven… I stop. I hold my breath and listen. Nothing. I continue, – ten, eleven, twelve. At the top of the stairs, I pause, listen and wait. I wait until my body starts to stiffen and my legs begin to cramp. I force myself to continue. Then, I hear it. A faint moan followed by muffled laughter. Damn it! Goddammit! My husband! I’ve got to get out. I’ve got to get help. I crawl through the kitchen, the ceramic tile cool to my touch. I reach the sliding glass door, raise my hand to flip the latch, gently pushing it open, – just enough, and holding my breath I squeeze outside. My body stiff with tension, I struggle to my feet. I start sprinting, the dry leaves crunching under my feet. The cool, damp wind chills my skin and tangles my hair. I repeatedly stumble and lose my footing on the uneven ground, but manage to regain my balance. The night is black as pitch, but I know where to go. I navigated these woods hundreds of times as a kid. There’s a shortcut which avoids the road as it curves around the lake. I focus on the rhythmic movement of my legs. They are heavy, quivering; they may buckle beneath me at any moment, but I force myself to keep going. There is no other choice. I have several miles to go. I have to get there as fast, as fast as I am able.
I see the lake in the distance, a sheet of black glass, two symmetrical circles of light, reflecting from the marina and guiding me, like glowing beacons of hope – a life raft in this shoal of misery. As I get closer, I can see the boats tethered to the weathered pier. Almost there, my lungs on fire, I have to stop. I’m running on fumes. My body is devoid of energy and full of pain, when I finally allow myself to stop. Immediately, my body reacts. I double over from the cramping in my side and greedily gulp the cool night air. I stay stationary for what seems like eternity, hands on my knees, my energy reserves depleted.
Eventually, I muster up the strength I need and forge ahead. Just then, I’m grabbed from behind, tackled to the ground, air bursting from my lungs. He’s straddling me now his thick, muscular legs twisted around my waist. The black mask covers his face, but I can see his meager lips form a thin smile and I can smell his breath, sour like curdled milk. He puts his face next to mine and I can feel the rough, scratchy mask on my skin. I start to gag as he slithers his warm tongue into my mouth.
My breathing becomes erratic and labored as he tells me, “Let’s go see your husband. I know you must be worried about him.” I close my eyes and try to focus on something other than the intense throbbing pain in my head and ringing in my ears…
“Grace. Grace. Wake up.” I could feel my body being shaken and hear my name being called repeatedly.
“Wake up Grace. The phone’s for you. It’s someone from work. She says it’s an emergency.” My husband Elliot mumbled as he passed me the phone.
I took the receiver, my voice hoarse as I answered.
“Hello.” I managed.
“Dr. Morgan, this is Ana. Sorry to call so late, but it’s an emergency.” The oversized, red numbers on the clock read 2:10 a.m. Otherwise the room was dark, nothing visible except outlines in varying shades of grey and black.
“What emergency?” I asked, suddenly becoming more alert and pushing my hair behind my ear so I could clearly hear what she was saying.
“Our new admit somehow sneaked out of the building and climbed onto the roof. She claims she has a knife and is going to kill herself if she can’t go back home with her mom.”
“How the hell did that happen?”
“Things were really crazy today and we were short staffed on the units to start with. Then two of the kids AWOLed…”
“Who?” I interrupted. “Amanda and Jasmine.” Ana responded. Jasmine and Amanda were both kids who had been raised in the system and troublemakers on the unit.
Ana continued, “We sent everyone looking for them, which left us with a skeleton crew. But, we found them two hours later trying to buy cigarettes at a 7-Eleven.”
“So you got them back, but the new admit managed to somehow get a knife and make it to the roof?” I knew I sounded exasperated and was making Ana uncomfortable, but I felt unsettled myself, the nightmare still running through my head.
“Yeah, I’m sorry Dr. Morgan. Emily must have slipped out while I was gone. I don’t really know how long she’s been up there…maybe thirty, forty minutes. She must have climbed up the fire escape.”
“What’s Emily’s story?” I asked.
“We got her in earlier this evening. She got kicked out of her foster home because of noncompliance. Her social worker, Kim Howe, you know her? She’s real nice. Anyway, Kim tried to find her another placement, but couldn’t.”
“Noncompliance meaning what exactly?” I asked. “Has she ever hurt herself, anybody else?”
“She cut herself up pretty good about eight months ago.” Ana replied.
“Jesus,” I said, climbing out of bed and wandering into the living room so as not to disturb Elliot any more than I already had. As my feet touched the smooth hardwood of the living room, I felt something beneath them. The floor was gritty, like tiny stones mixed with damp earth. Where did it come from? Why was it all over the floor?
“Dr. Morgan?” Ana asked into the still phone line. Distracted by the grit under my feet, I tried to refocus on Ana’s voice.
“Yes…” I mumbled, and recovered. “Yeah, sorry Ana. I was just thinking. Who’s with her now?” I asked.
“Drew’s talking to her. He’s the only staff person she’ll talk with.”
“Was he able to keep her safe?”
“For now, but he believes she’s already cut her arms and legs.” Ana answered.
“God!” I exclaimed. Scenarios raced through my head. Foremost was my concern for the girl, but closely behind that was a concern for my reputation and my job. This was bad. “OK, I’m on my way.” I said, now quickly walking back toward the bedroom and heading for the closet. “Just make sure you’re following the new suicide protocol, the revised one. I’ll be there as quickly as I can.”
“Yeah, we will. I’m sorry Dr. Morgan.” Ana apologized.
“Don’t worry about it. You’ve got my cell number? Call me if there is any change.”
“Yeah, I’ve got it.”
I hung up the receiver and efficiently rummaged around in the bottom of the closet, retrieving a pair of jeans and sweatshirt I had worn yesterday evening. I pulled on my clothes, made my way to the bathroom and turned on the light, careful not to disrupt Elliot. I threw some cold water on my face and swept my honey blonde hair into a ponytail. Good enough, I thought, looking at the reflection staring back at me. I looked tired. My green eyes, framed by my gold rimmed glasses, seemed dull. Maybe it was the puffiness and dark circles around them. My skin seemed pale, my lips bloodless, under the unforgiving light. I no longer had that rosy hue of health which had always been so typical.
I knew I hadn’t been sleeping well for the last couple months and physically it was starting to take its toll. My diet had suffered too, leading to some weight loss which made me look gaunt since I had always been thin. It made my face appear hollow, more angular, losing the softness around my chin. Even worse, my exercise routine had essentially been stopped in its tracks given my increased responsibilities at work. But work was no excuse. I really had to start taking better care of myself.
“Where are you going?” Elliot mumbled.
“Work.” I answered.
“Jesus, why?” he responded irritably, sitting up in bed.
“We’ve got a kid who’s threatening to kill herself.”
“OK, so let someone else handle it for a change. It’s not like it’s unusual. There’s a crisis at that place almost every night.”
“I can’t, they’ve screwed up on this one. I have to handle it.”
“Right.” He growled. “You can have someone else handle it, you just won’t. Just because you’re the clinical director doesn’t mean you have to do it all yourself. Some things never change. You can’t ever let anyone else be responsible.”
He rolled over and continued. “Make sure you don’t wake me when you get in. I’ve got to be at the lab by seven…and by the way, you look like shit.”
“Yeah, well screw you too.” I muttered to myself and stormed out the door into the chilly, autumn night. I didn’t need Elliot to point out the obvious.
It wasn’t until I was in the car that I remembered the floor in the living room when I was talking on the phone. The feeling against my feet, like walking across a forest floor. Pebbles? Sand? Dirt? What exactly? Maybe the African violet fell off the end table? Did Snowy knock it over? Our cat was always sniffing and eating our plants. Either way, it would have to wait until later.