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There isn’t much that I didn’t enjoy with this book. Butler does a nice job of pacing, character development, and backstory. She kept me guessing, and it was nice to not be able to predict the ending. This was one of my favorite reads of 2017, and I look forward to more of her books.
*** Mini spoiler in the last sentence below regarding the child in the book***
If you normally stay away from books about children, this one is safe to read.
Below is the first chapter from my write-in-progress, “The Lights Will Never Fade.” Keep in mind that while I have edited it, it still has many phases of editing and revising to go. It’s a psychological thriller about a girl who has found her entire family murdered. She moves from her small town in Oklahoma to live with her only aunt in Connecticut. The only problem is, the shadow follows her wherever she goes. Little does she know, her aunt has met the same shadow. Can she escape the shadow’s torment and just who killed her family?
Chapter 1: Charity
Peyton dug her fingers into the brass handles on the cracked frame and frantically lifted the window as quietly as possible. She placed her left foot onto the roof just below as her dad’s scream rang out from the other end of the house. She leaned over the edge of the roof and stared down at the deck beneath her. Peyton judged that the drop couldn’t be more than twelve feet below, so she timed her jump just right to land on her feet and catch herself with her hands as she fell forward onto the sturdy deck.
Peyton raced into the woods that stood less than thirty feet from the deck and she ran as far as she could until she hid herself behind a row of bald Cypress trees and Bradford pears. The clouds carried the heavy raindrops that wanted to fall on that muggy September day. Oklahoma in the summer tends to hold on to the heat even as fall approaches. Peyton made it a few hundred yards deep into the woods and threw herself down into the leaves and sticks so she could block out the world around her.
Everything went silent with the exception of a few bluebirds and running squirrels in the wooded neighborhood that sat in the heart of Jenks, Oklahoma. Peyton waited in fear with desperate hope that the killer didn’t see her escape into the woods. She feared for her family but couldn’t muster the strength to run back inside to see if they were all right. No, September 1st made for a dreadful day in the life of Peyton Hamilton. She lay on top of the ground for a full hour before walking slowly back to where her house rested on the peaceful street.
Peyton watched her house from the woods and saw no movement inside. She listened but heard nothing, only silence coming from her home and the smell of Bermuda grass on the lawn in front of her. She carefully walked inside through the back door and the only sound she heard was that of her own footsteps along the way. Peyton called out, “Mom? Dad? Sabrina? Blakey?”
The floors creaked as she stepped through the kitchen and into the dining room. The maple and birch floors absorbed each step Peyton took while the air stood completely still all around her. She walked up the stairs and when she reached the top, she sensed something truly dark and sinister.
“Blakey, are you there?”
Peyton turned the corner and opened the door to Blake’s room. Blake is the youngest of three children for Kevin and Samantha Hamilton, only ten years old. Next is Sabrina, twelve, and Peyton is eighteen and graduated from Jenks High School this past June. She peered into his bedroom and saw Blake lying on his bed, staring up at the ceiling. His eyes were wide open and the covers and sheets appeared to be drenched in blood.
Peyton made her way over to the side of Blake’s bed and couldn’t believe her eyes.
“Blakey?” she called out through misty eyes. “Blakey, can you hear me?”
Blake did not answer and Peyton bent down to see if she could hear a heartbeat or if he was still breathing. She began to panic and hugged her bloodied and deceased brother.
“Mom! Dad! Get in here, Blakey’s dead!”
Nobody answered her so she hurried out of Blake’s room and went into Sabrina’s room, only to find her lying in nearly the exact same position and condition that she found Blake. Sabrina had blood all over her body and bed, just like Blake, but also a few small gashes and cuts on her face. The scene was gruesome and Peyton couldn’t stay in the room any longer as Sabrina was clearly dead.
She ran down the hall and burst through her parent’s room to find her father covered in blood on the ground and she did not see her mother. She walked slowly over to her dad, trying to breathe through the strong smell of metal and blood.
“Dad? Are you okay?”
Her father lay face down on the carpet and his body did not budge. Peyton knelt down and carefully shook her dad to see if he might still be alive. She rolled him over and almost threw up at the sight of her battered father. His face was not recognizable from what appeared to be some sort of stab wounds and his body was covered in cuts and gashes. There must have been forty or more gashes from his head down to his stomach. She stood back up and headed towards the master bathroom door, which had blood smeared across it and was closed shut.
Peyton turned the handle slowly and caught a glimpse of her mother in the mirror. She lay in the tub, just like everyone else. Her face and body looked disfigured and mangled. Peyton couldn’t believe that her entire family was gone and ran as quickly as she could to her bedroom. She picked up her cell phone and dialed 911.
“911, what is your emergency?”
“Yes,” Peyton said in a panic and as if she’d lost her breath, “someone broke into my house and killed my whole family!”
“Is that person still in your home?”
“No, I don’t think so. I escaped through my window when I heard the man fighting with my parents and my dad yelled for us to run.”
“Okay and what is your name?”
“Peyton Hamilton. I’m so stupid. I left while he killed my little brother and sister. I should have tried to help them escape too.”
“You did the right thing Peyton. If you had tried to help them, as noble as it would have been, he would have more than likely killed you too. Police and paramedics are on their way. Find a safe place to sit and relax until they get there.”
Peyton hung up the phone before the 911 operator finished speaking and walked downstairs to wait for the police to arrive. She glanced down at her hands and noticed there was blood smeared on her arms as well as all over her clothes. She didn’t want to change because she feared she would destroy evidence that might help them find who did this. She sat on the couch and stared off into the distance, not crying or doing anything really. She felt more shock than anything. Who could have wanted to hurt her family and why was she lucky enough to escape? These thoughts passed through Peyton’s mind as the doorbell rang.
She opened the door and the officers walked her back to the living room while paramedics headed upstairs to the terrible scene above. The first person to walk into Blake’s room bent over as soon as he crossed the threshold. Chase Freeman was only twenty-one years old and was born and raised in the adjacent town of Tulsa. His father was a firefighter and Chase always grew up wanting to help other people. He’d been on the job for close to a year now but never encountered a scene like this before. He turned and raced for the bathroom, just making it in time to throw up in the toilet.
His partner, Emily Young, was a bit older, twenty-three years old. This was by far the worst crime scene she’d seen as well but she had a tougher stomach for things like this. She waited for Chase to come out of the bathroom and the two of them reentered the boy’s bedroom. They felt for a pulse but Blake’s life had already left him. They made their way to the other rooms and found the same thing.
Everyone was dead.
They called for a bus to come and transport the bodies to the morgue as officers took pictures of the crime scene and searched for any evidence of an intruder.
They dusted for prints and located several sets on the door frames, bathroom sink, and on the end table in the master bedroom. They were unable to locate a murder weapon and couldn’t find a missing knife from the kitchen that might have been used in the murders. Detectives showed up shortly to review the evidence and study the scene. They thought that Peyton might have something to do with the crime since she was the only one who managed to escape. They needed to determine a motive for the eighteen-year old to have committed such a heinous crime. If she was the murderer, the weapon used had to be close by around the house or out in the woods where Peyton said she hid during the attack.
“Hi Peyton, I’m detective Nelson and this is my partner detective Biggs. We’d like to ask you a few questions, if that’s okay with you.”
“Sure,” Peyton said in a calm and controlled voice.
Detective Jonathan Nelson stood slightly above six feet tall and weighed around two hundred and ten pounds. His hair made him look like he could have been a model with a hazel brown shine and deep green eyes to compliment his perfect hair. Detective Nelson just turned forty-years old and has been a homicide detective for the past eight years.
Detective Raymond Biggs was a little shorter, around five feet ten. His hair couldn’t match his partner’s but still, his dirty blonde, natural curls made the ladies blush. Detective Biggs stayed in good shape and weighed only one hundred and seventy pounds. They recently promoted him to detective after he’d spent ten years as an officer. He was a few years behind detective Nelson at thirty-six but just as capable of a detective.
“What made you jump off your roof and hide in the woods?” asked detective Nelson. “How did you know that something was wrong?”
“I heard my dad yell for us to run. He sounded terrified. I’d never heard him sound like that before.”
“So that’s when you climbed out your window?” asked detective Biggs.
“Yeah, I didn’t know what to do and my first instinct told me to jump and run,” Peyton said, matter-of-factly.
“I don’t want to make you feel guilty,” detective Nelson said, “but did you think about trying to help your little brother and sister?”
“Honestly, I didn’t think. My dad’s voice sounded so shaken and serious that I believed he really meant for me to get out of there right away.”
“I understand,” detective Nelson continued, “I’m not blaming you for any of this. Do you know of anyone who might have wanted to hurt your family?”
“I can’t think of anyone,” Peyton said. “Well, Dad did have this argument with the guy that painted our house like a month ago.”
“Do you remember his name?” asked detective Nelson. “What were they arguing about?”
“I don’t remember his name, just that he painted the inside of our house and Dad didn’t pay him the final three thousand dollars owed because the guy took three weeks longer than he said it would take and also because he did such a poor job. He didn’t even paint the closet in my room.”
“How did you get the blood all over you?” asked detective Biggs while glancing at her stained hands and clothes.
“I found my brother first and I hugged him. I know I shouldn’t have but I love him so much I just couldn’t help myself. And then I know I touched everyone else to check for a pulse but my dad was lying on his stomach so I turned him over when he didn’t answer my calls.”
Detective Nelson and detective Biggs looked around at the living room walls and the hallway leading to the downstairs office. The walls certainly didn’t appear as if they had just been painted and knew they should talk with this individual who had a motive to kill Kevin Hamilton and his family. It seemed like a bit of a stretch to them, to kill Kevin, his wife, and two of their kids over three thousand dollars, but it was the only lead they had to go on at this point. Also, the crime was so personal and the amount of overkill led them to believe that whoever committed the crime was an extremely angry individual. Stranger things had happened before and this painter might have been upset enough over not being paid to kill as some sort of sick revenge.
“We’re going to catch whoever hurt your family,” said detective Biggs, “but right now we’ll need to take pictures of you to have as evidence.”
An officer came into the living room and photographed Peyton’s arms, hands, clothes, and hair. She had blood scattered all over her and detectives weren’t quite sure what to think with no sign of a break-in, nothing missing, and no murder weapon. They didn’t believe Peyton was physically capable of committing such a violent crime but whoever did must have known the victims as the attack was incredibly personal.
Detective Nelson and detective Biggs drove Peyton to a friend’s house since she had no other family in the Tulsa area. The closest relative lived down south in Mississippi and her only aunt lived in Connecticut. Her dad’s sister, Charity Hamilton, lived in New Milford, Connecticut- a little over an hour from both Hartford and New York City. Peyton and her family visited Aunt Charity every summer since she was born and often during other holidays. They were extremely close and Charity loved Peyton and her siblings like they were her own children. They just got back from Connecticut in early August in fact, spending ten days with Aunt Charity and enjoying the steamy Northeast.
The next morning, Charity arrived in Tulsa and drove the fifteen minutes to Jenks where Peyton remained. She found her friend Kendra’s house and knocked on the door with puffy eyes from mourning the loss of her only brother, nephew, niece, and sister-in-law.
Kendra came to the door with Peyton standing directly behind her. She barely slept during the night and had bags forming under her eyes.
“Oh sweetie,” said Aunt Charity, “I’m so sorry.”
Charity reached out and held her niece. Peyton rested her head on Aunt Charity’s shoulder and felt the love her aunt had for her. The two held each other for what seemed like an eternity and went inside to sit and talk about what to do next.
“I’m here for you Peyton,” Charity said from the black leather couch in Kendra’s living room. “We’ll get through this together and find a way to move on.”
Charity was younger than her brother, only thirty-four years old. She never married and had no kids of her own even though she was a beautiful woman with a pleasant body. She stood at five feet five and weighed close to one hundred and thirty pounds. She cut her blonde hair to just above her shoulders and had the brightest blue eyes. Peyton resembled her aunt, though she might have been an inch and a half taller than Aunt Charity and somewhat skinner, weighing only one hundred and twenty pounds at the most. Peyton grew her light brown hair down past the middle of her back and looked at her loving aunt through her hazel green eyes.
“Thank you for coming Aunt Charity. What am I supposed to do now?”
“What do you mean?” Charity said while tossing the hair off of Peyton’s forehead and behind her ear.
“Where am I going to live? I can’t go back to that house and I don’t have a job or anyone here to stay with.”
“I want you to come live with me, Peyton. You always liked coming to visit me and there’s no sense in you staying here unless that’s what you want to do.”
Peyton stood up from the couch and pulled her hair back into a ponytail. She noticed her aunt seemed a bit disheveled and thought moving east might be good for the both of them. She was enrolled at the University of Tulsa and the fall term started only a week ago. She liked the idea of transferring to the University of Connecticut and living with Aunt Charity in her early twentieth century home. Connecticut in the fall displayed the most beautiful trees and vivid colors she’d ever seen. Yes, this is exactly what Peyton needed to heal and forget the images of her dead family that filled her mind.
“That sounds nice, Aunt Charity. Thank you for being so kind.”
“Don’t thank me dear, we are family and this is what family does.”
Charity stayed in a local hotel, not wanting to be a bother to Kendra and her family. They told her she was more than welcome to stay, but she insisted on getting a room for the week while waiting for the funeral and getting everything in order for Peyton to move back with her. Peyton stayed in the hotel with her aunt as well and the two laughed and reminisced while talking about old times together.
“Remember that time when you were only eleven or twelve and you all came out to visit for Christmas?” Charity said while laughing on her queen-sized bed in the spacious room.
“Oh my God, it snowed so much during that trip,” Peyton said with a slight smile. “Wasn’t there like a foot of snow or something?”
“At least. If I remember correctly, it snowed right after you guys flew in a few days before Christmas and then we got a huge nor’easter Christmas Eve night and into Christmas morning. We were stuck in the house all week till you had to fly back home.”
“Yeah, I remember that trip. Sabrina was six and Blakey was four I think. We played in the snow so much our fingers felt like they were about to fall off.”
Peyton grew excited to live in her favorite place she used to visit. She missed her family but the severity of what happened hadn’t quite sunk in yet. Maybe seeing them at the memorial service or watching their caskets be lowered into the ground would cause Peyton to feel sadness, but for now, she felt more numbness than anything else. She looked at her aunt and wondered what life would be like now that they were really gone.
“Aunt Charity, why haven’t I cried for Mom and Dad, or Sabrina and Blakey? Shouldn’t I be more emotional than I am right now?”
“There’s no right way to respond or act,” said Charity, as she walked to the chair next to Peyton and sat down by the small table. “You saw something that most people never see in their lives and it was incredibly traumatic for you. Your tears will come but don’t feel bad or guilty for not breaking down. I know you love them and they know that too.”
The girls went to sleep that second night after the tragic morning of September 1st and prepared themselves to finish the funeral arrangements and begin packing for Peyton tomorrow. Somewhere around 2am, Charity woke up to a sharp scream.
“What is it?” Charity said with a tinge of fear. “Are you okay?”
She looked over to see Peyton sitting up in her bed and panting with fear herself. Peyton’s head dripped small beads of sweat and she clenched the sheets in her fists.
“I had a bad dream, it was so real.”
“What was it sweetie? You scared me to death.”
“I don’t know,” Peyton said while lying down on her side and closing her eyes to fall back asleep. “I can’t explain what it was, just that there were flashes of a girl running that sent chills down my spine. I know it doesn’t make any sense but it was the most terrifying thing I’ve ever seen.”
“I’m sorry Peyton. You can sleep in bed with me tonight if you’d like to.”
Peyton was already fast asleep before Charity finished talking and Charity went back to sleep herself. Morning came and Peyton seemed better from the nightmare just hours ago. They made their way to Jansen Funeral Parlor on Memorial in Tulsa to get everything planned for the funeral.
Charity worked as an author and editor in Connecticut. She’s had three novels published in the mystery genre. Her first book, Dying to Sleep, sold sixty thousand copies and set her up for a moderate advance for her next book. Bodies of Water sold only fifteen thousand copies due to poor marketing by the publisher and Charity herself went to few signings and speaking engagements. Before writing her third novel, she started to edit for the New Milford Times newspaper as well as write opinion pieces each week. Her third book, Secrets From My Grave, released in July of last year and has sold twenty thousand copies in fourteen months. It’s selling better than her debut novel did and it has caused her two other books to pick up steam as well.
Charity’s finances were stable at best. She had enough to live on but writing hadn’t made her rich by any means. The prospect of having to pay thirty to forty thousand dollars for the funeral left her worried. She didn’t have that kind of money and her brother didn’t have any kind of insurance policy.
Kevin and Samantha lived frugally with the three kids in Jenks. They talked often about getting life insurance in case something ever happened to them but never expected something like this. Kevin ran his own lawn care business in Jenks, Tulsa, and Broken Arrow. He made respectable money cutting residential lawns but Samantha stayed at home to raise the kids and play a more traditional role. Neither Kevin or Samantha felt the need to keep her in the house but Samantha never really had a passion to work outside the home. She enjoyed decorating the house and even doing small renovations. She was handy and thrifty, making everything they had better as time passed by.
With just the one income, the Hamilton’s only had around five thousand dollars in their savings account and no retirement yet. The house held about thirty-five thousand dollars in equity but Charity didn’t want to spend that money on funeral expenses when she could use it for Peyton’s college fund. After speaking with the funeral parlor, they both decided to have the family cremated and take their remains to Connecticut with them.
“If they’re buried here,” said Peyton, “who will come and visit them?”
“That’s true and you can either keep their ashes with you or spread them somewhere special once you get settled in New Milford.”
Peyton liked the idea of having her siblings and parents close to her rather than in the cold ground. Charity settled on forty-eight hundred dollars for the cremation and they decided not to have a memorial service at Peyton’s wish.
“It’s not like we can view their bodies,” said Peyton to her aunt on the drive back to the hotel from the funeral parlor. “We don’t have any family here either, just a few friends and I’d rather have a gathering at a park or something instead of in a stuffy church where everyone dresses up and pretends to be sad.”
“Why would you say that?” asked Charity. “No one would be pretending to be sad. All of your friends will want to say goodbye to your wonderful parents and precious brother and sister. What if we had a celebration of their lives at Riverside Park?”
The girls worked on packing up all of Peyton’s belongings as well as listing the house for sale, putting all of their nice things into storage, and talking with police each day to find out if they had any more information about the painter or any other leads in the case. They were allowed to go into the house the third day after the crime took place, on September 4th.
Charity sold both of her brother’s vehicles, his work truck and the family car. He owed two thousand on the truck still but the car was paid for. Between the two vehicles, she made eleven thousand dollars to help with the move to Connecticut for Peyton and put the rest in a savings account that Peyton could use at her discretion. She paid for the cremation by selling Kevin’s sports memorabilia collection. He had autographed baseballs signed by Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and one by Mickey Mantle. He collected a Cowboys football signed by the entire starting lineup and head coach from 1994, the year they beat the Bills for the second straight year in the Super Bowl. He even saved an autographed Michael Jordan rookie baseball card.
The girls took his collection to an upscale sports memorabilia shop in Tulsa and received five thousand dollars for the entire collection. It was a fair price based on the research Charity did online and neither of the girls had any sentimental value towards the items. That covered the cremation and urns to hold their remains in.
Charity contacted their close friends, only about thirty people in all (including kids), and they all met at Riverside Park on September 7th to remember Kevin, Samantha, Sabrina, and Blake Hamilton. She ordered a life-size poster made up of the entire Hamilton family that stood on an easel with flowers all around it and the Arkansas River running seamlessly in the background. There were no pastors or clergy there to say anything about the family. They rarely attended church so it didn’t feel right to Charity or Peyton to put on a show when Peyton knew her parents wouldn’t have wanted that.
No, they were all about simplicity. People spoke kind words and shed tears for the tragic loss of this family. They hugged Peyton and wished her all the best in her move to the Northeast. Several people handed her checks for one hundred dollars and another for five hundred. Their kindness made Peyton feel a little guilty for receiving gifts when she should be mourning the loss of her family. She grew concerned that she didn’t feel more remorse for her family as she had yet to shed a real tear for them. The closest she came to crying was when she found Blakey in his room.
Peyton turned from the crowd of people and strolled over to the soothing water. She couldn’t see her reflection down below but knew that there was more than meets the eye.
Fellow writer Rebecca Lamoreaux interviewed me for her blog and you can check it out here: Rebecca’s interview of Jackson Paul Baer