First Chapter Book Award Finalist: Written in Red by Debbie Turner


Written in Red by Debbie Turner is a Finalist in the Mystery/Thriller category of Works in Progress for the East Texas Writers Guild First Chapter Book Awards.

Award-Winning First Chapter

I can’t take this anymore. If no one else is going to do anything, I will. My hands tremble pressing the three numbers I hope will set my life right again.

“Maple Grove 911. Where is your emergency?”

Is this a mistake?

“Hello. Do you need assistance?” The tone commands a response.

Debbie Turner
Debbie Turner

I swallow and tighten my grip on the script, each word carefully chosen and rehearsed with Taylor until they continually loop through my mind. Play. Rewind. Repeat. We debated the precise details that would warrant the police opening an investigation without tipping the matter into SWAT territory. A legion of squad cars roaring up with lights strobing and sirens screaming would cause my uptight neighbors to gossip about nothing else for the rest of the summer.

Finally, my best friend pronounced the plan perfect, and she should know since her dad is a lawyer. Taylor is a self-proclaimed authority on anything legal, like her father’s profession automatically grants her a level of expertise unavailable to other sophomores. When I consider my total obsession with words, the legacy my mother has passed on to me, I get how that makes sense. Evenings spent shadowing my mom at Pinnacle Marketing have honed my communication skills so that my cell is favorited on every friend’s speed dial. If my digits are ever scribbled on a bathroom wall, the message is more likely to read, For Help With Tough English Assignments, Call Blayse, instead of anything vulgar.

“Are you able to respond? Where is your emergency?”

Okay, here goes. Words trip over each other in their haste to leave my mouth. “I’m calling to report a missing person. Please send someone right away. I’m not in immediate danger, but need an officer right now!” I pause, the dispatcher asks questions, but I talk over her, repeating my name and address to make sure she gets them right before I end the call. Her voice cuts off mid word, and the image of a sunflower reappears on the screen. I turn off my cell phone, so she can’t call back.

The words, “She Believed She Could, So She Did”, each letter hand-stenciled on my bedroom wall by my mom, ripple like a disturbed reflection, then slide to the floor while my weightless head drifts toward the ceiling. I recall the advice the school nurse gave a classmate when she had a panic attack. Breathe slowly. In through my nose and out through my mouth.

After a few moments, the dizziness passes.

I scramble from my bed and press my ear to the door. Nothing. Dad must still be watching TV in the living room. Separated from my bedroom by the kitchen, there’s no way he could hear me.

Heart hammering, I ease the door open, tiptoe down the hall, and force myself to stroll

naturally toward the refrigerator. A furtive glance in Dad’s direction reveals his head bent over the newspaper spread across his knees, chestnut hair still mussed from sleeping. I grab a soda and perch on a stool at the kitchen island where the open floor plan gives me a clear view of him straight ahead and a portion of the driveway over my right shoulder.

My mind circles back to the last time I talked to my mom. Just over a week ago. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” she’d promised.

People say that life can change instantly, but I never understood what they meant, until now.

I assumed catastrophes built up gradually instead of sucker-punching you like a school bully afraid of getting hit back.

Unexpected tragedies only happen to other people. I saw an SUV towed out of a lake once.

The driver sat in the back of an ambulance, huddled in blankets, explaining what had happened to anyone who would listen. He’d been sure the ice would hold, but the car wasn’t far from shore when the frozen surface broke apart, and down he went.

Now, I’m one of those “other people.” I’ve been swallowed by the icy deep, pulled out

shivering, and left to wonder how everything went so wrong.

According to my father, I need to accept Mom’s decision and move on. Really? As though having my family ripped apart is no worse than not making the competitive cheer team or getting Mrs. Beaudrot for AP Math.

It seems easy for him. He’s settled in his recliner like any other Saturday morning, unshaven and clothed in a loose navy t-shirt and flannel pajama pants, dividing his attention between the newspaper and the wide-screen TV mounted on the wall. The volume is low, but I can make out the voice of a financial analyst droning on about charts and graphs that only a banker would find engaging. Pretty cold of you, Dad, don’t you think?

I want to shake him. Do something. Fix this! But no, after the shock had subsided, he’d shifted into problem-solving mode, spending most of his time the past week on his phone “making financial arrangements.”

Only a few more minutes before he discovers what I’ve done. A patrol car will roll into our driveway followed by a sharp knock on the door. Then the police will ask questions he won’t be able to avoid as stubbornly as he has mine.

My eyes drift to the driveway just as Dad gives the paper a shake to straighten the fold, and the unexpected snap startles me. I reach for the marble island, but my hand slides, and I nearly fall to the floor. Breathing deeply, I lean back, and the metal frame of the bar stool chills me through my tank top.

Dad twists around, glances at the bare countertop, and then turns his gaze to me. My knee begins to bounce. I press down hard on my leg to make it stop.

“Honey, what are you doing?”

Guilt warms my cheeks, and a knot forms in my throat. I should have spread out some homework for cover. “Nothing,” I croak. When he raises an eyebrow, I add, “Just thinking.” My voice trails off. I can’t look at him.

“Want to talk about it?” He folds the newspaper and motions toward the nearby sofa. “Sit with me. We need to plan how we’re going to deal with this, uh—,” he hesitates as though searching for the right word. “This situation.”

For a second, I picture myself running into his arms and climbing into his lap like when I was younger. My daddy was once my superhero, a fixer of the broken, before work kept him late at night. Before the office became more important than my school performances, my soccer games, my stories. More important than me.

Now, he’s interested in what I think? Too late for that. A desire to escape overwhelms me. I want to fling open the heavy front door and run. To be anywhere but here. Instead, I’m frozen in place with a thousand words stuck in my throat.

Dad waits, his expression hopeful.

I shake my head, only a little, but enough that disappointment melts his smile before he turns away and whips the paper open.

It’s been forever. The cops may not show up. The dispatcher could probably tell from my voice that I’m barely fifteen. No, they’ll come. My voice shook, especially at first. But dispatchers probably expect that. You don’t call nine-one-one to report that you’re having a great day.

A thud of a car door interrupts my thoughts. Then another. They’re here. My heart slams against the inside of my chest, the sound booming louder and louder in my head. Dad looks over his shoulder, drops the newspaper on the floor, and stands.

I’m mentally transported to last year’s literature class. The sinister throbbing that emanated from the buried evidence in Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” now bounces between the hardwood floors and vaulted ceiling of our home. My mind races, desperate for words to explain, but he doesn’t even look in my direction on his way to the door.

Dad must have spotted the police uniforms through the glass side panels. He stumbles and turns to me, his face ghostly pale. He whispers, “Blayse.”

One hand reaches toward me, but something in my expression gives me away. His eyes widen, and his mouth opens, but no sound comes out.

The betrayal on his face hits me harder than expected. “Daddy, I’m sorry. Please don’t be mad.”

His arm falls like a marionette whose string has been cut. “What have you done?”

I don’t want to hurt him, but I must find my mother. I ease past him and open the door.


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