Her Broken Wings by D.K. Hood


Twenty years ago

Dark clouds rolled across the sky, starving the endless night, with no hope of illumination from the waning moon. Outside the wind whined through the trees and buffeted the house in wild gusts. She lay very still, not making a sound in the alcohol-soaked air. The door to the bedroom hung open, and the ticking of the hundred-year-old grandfather clock in the hallway stripped away the hours and minutes until dawn. Her head pounded and the cut on her lip tasted like metal, but she’d made plans to get away and it was now or never. Heart hammering, she slid silently from the bed and headed for the door, stepping with care to avoid the creaky wooden floorboards. She’d hidden her clothes in the bathroom laundry basket and quickly dressed before moving along the hallway like a ghost to her boys’ bedroom.

Tousled but anxious for the secret adventure to begin, they shrugged into their coats, pulled on their boots, and snuck down the hallway to the stairs. Dizzy with fear, she crept past her bedroom door and pressing a finger to her lips urged them forward.

In a grind of familiar machinery, the grandfather clock struck the hour and she froze, mid-stride. Gong, gong, gong, gong, gong, gong.

The sound echoed through the house like an intruder alarm, but as the vibration of the last chime dissipated, not a sound came from her bedroom. She followed the boys downstairs and they slipped out the door in silence. She grabbed their hands and ran to the old battered sedan parked out front. With her boys safely inside, she climbed behind the wheel. Parked on the sloping driveway, she’d planned to roll the vehicle some ways away from the house before starting the engine and heading for the reservation. She could hide there and he’d never find her.

After fumbling the key into the ignition, she took one last furtive glance at the house. Light spilled from the bedroom and she gasped in terror at the face twisted with rage at the window. He knows.He’ll never let us leave. She turned the key. The old car shivered and shuddered but refused to start. She banged her fists on the steering wheel. “Come on, come on.”

After pumping the gas, she tried again and the engine spluttered into life. Wasting no time, she headed down the isolated dirt road, bouncing over tree roots and the sunken tire tracks left in the mud after last winter’s melt. Tall, foreboding trees lined the driveway like sentries to form the dark tunnel to her prison. As she burst through the gate on the other side, the sun was no more than a light haze on the horizon. Not much further now, and the moment she turned onto the highway, she’d be free.

The old mining road stretched out before her, the grasslands like a sea of turbulent water under the swirling morning mist. Fear cramped her stomach with every glance into the rear-view mirror. She’d tried to escape before but each time he’d found her and dragged her back. His drinking had gotten so bad he’d kill her soon enough, and she refused to allow a monster to raise her sons. As the wall of pines lining Stanton Road came into view, she stared at the long winding blacktop that would take her to safety and floored the gas pedal.

“Daddy’s coming.” One of her sons had twisted around in his seat and was staring out the back window. “He’s going to be angry again.”

Panic gripped her by the throat and sweat coated her flesh at the sight of bobbing headlights, but she forced her voice to remain calm. “We’ll be on the highway soon and he won’t be able to catch us.”

She took the bend onto Stanton Road at an angle, sending dirt and gravel flying up in a gray cloud. The old tires gripped the blacktop and she pushed the gas pedal to the floor. Five miles to the on-ramp and she’d be on the highway, and then only a few more miles to the private road deep in the forest that would take her home. As a Native American, once inside the reservation she and her sons would vanish like smoke. She glanced in the mirror and swallowed hard. The truck’s headlights lit up the road and it was coming fast. The empty road ahead of her filled her with terror. She’d hoped by leaving early, a delivery truck or someone would be traveling into Black Rock Falls at this hour. If he caught up with her again, she’d be defenseless.

She let out a cry of anguish when the car’s engine spluttered and steam crept out from under the hood, but she pushed on. Trees flashed by in a sea of green and black but her gaze remained fixed on the yellow line down the middle of the blacktop.

Bright lights hit her mirror, blinding her, and then she heard the roar of a powerful engine. Terrified, she willed the car to go faster and moved out to straddle the yellow line; if he couldn’t overtake her, he couldn’t push her off the road. The next moment the car’s engine squealed in a metal-on-metal shriek and shuddered. Clouds of smoke poured from under the hood, obstructing her view of the road. Fumes filled the car and, choking, she wound down the window. A blast of freezing air slapped her in the face but the lights behind her had gotten closer. She gasped in distress and pressed the accelerator but the engine made one last moan and stopped running. The momentum took her some distance but he was almost on her, the bright lights from his truck filling the car’s interior and burning her eyes.

With seconds to spare, she pulled off the road and sprang from the car, flinging open the back door. “Grab your backpacks and run that way.” She pointed into the forest. “Don’t look back.”

To hide them from the enraged lunatic getting slowly from his truck with a shovel in one hand, she headed in the opposite direction to lure him away.

“Mommy, don’t leave us here.” A plaintive wail came from behind her.

She stopped and looked around as her tormentor crashed into the forest. She gaped in horror as he scooped up his son and then threw him to the ground like garbage. Blood trickled from the young boy’s nose as he lay unmoving. She ran at her husband and pounded his chest with her fists. “What have you done?”

His laugh raised the hairs on her flesh as he tossed her aside and then swung the shovel like a baseball bat. The clang inside her head vibrated into her eyes. As she fell, the ground came up fast and pine needles prickled her cheek. She hoped her other son had gotten away but she would never know. As she reached out to touch the outstretched hand of her little boy, the smell of the woodlands filled her head as if to soothe her. She’d missed the pine-scented mountain air. Her sight blurred and then cleared for a few seconds, allowing her to see the sky. The storm clouds parted and the rising sunbeams pierced the branches like a halo of gold around them. High above a murder of crows circled and then filled the trees as if welcoming her home.