Mind Sweeper

Mind Sweeper by Deborah O'Toole is a haunting mystery/suspense novel now available in Kindle, Kobo and Nook editions.


Newly-widowed Beth Mills accepts an outpouring of sympathy from her community after a freak mining accident takes the life of her husband, Aaron. Unbeknownst to anyone, she is secretly delighted that her cruel husband is lost to her, but never expects his vicious ghost to return and haunt her in more ways than one...

From Chapter Five

June 2007

Nightmare Inauguration


    THE NIGHTMARES BEGAN the week after Aaron's funeral.


    Beth gradually eased herself into a comfortable routine. She rose late, ate a big breakfast, and then took a long walk in the cemetery woodlands away from the bastard's grave. She typically enjoyed a leisurely lunch on the deck, and then a nap with a bit of television in bed. She ate a light supper, and then devoted her evenings to sewing and needlework in the attic before retiring after midnight.


    A few days after the funeral service, Beth decided it was time to get rid of Aaron's personal belongings. The presence of his clothes, his combs, brushes, soap and other items made her uneasy as she still slept in the bedroom they once shared.


    After obtaining several cardboard boxes from the local grocery store, she gathered Aaron's clothes from the bedroom closet and dresser, his shoes, his bedside books and reading glasses, his shaving accessories and his aftershave lotion, Aqua Velva.


    How she hated the smell of Aqua Velva. The scent of it was in her nostrils forever. The stale aroma lingered as she remembered his years of abuse, bent over as he beat her senseless or raped her. She shuddered. For good measure, she took the remaining bottle of cologne and poured it down the sink.


    She packed his brushes and combs, recalling how he used to take great care in making his blond hair appear naturally spiky, spending more time on his outer shell than she ever did. His hair was so thick he resorted to using hairbrushes rather than combs. When it came time for a trim he would only trust the local barber in Ivytown, Miguel Sanchez, who had been taking care of the miners' hair for many years.


    After she finished packing his belongings, she hauled the three boxes to the attic, one by one. Shoving them in a far corner, she placed a blanket over the top of the boxes so she wouldn't be reminded of them every time she came into the room.


    For the most part Beth was content, happier than she had been in many years. Aside from occasional bad memories, she felt like she was on vacation and loathed the idea it might come to an end.


    But of course it did. The first nightmare came on a late June evening. She was curled into a ball in the middle of her bed, sleeping peacefully. She saw herself as such in the nightmare, the setting almost surreal in its tranquility.


    Then the tall windows flung open violently, bringing a rush of wind across the room and onto the bed. The air was uncharacteristically cold for June, so Beth shivered and huddled deeper under her blanket.


    Footsteps awoke her in the nightmare. They came from the corridor outside the bedroom, approaching the door with agonizing slowness. They were heavy steps, like those from someone wearing work boots.


    In the nightmare, Beth began to slowly waken, vaguely annoyed by the listlessness of the footsteps. "If you're coming in, do it already," she groused with impatience.


    As if in answer, the bedroom door opened with an odd creak that had never been there before. She lay still in the bed, her breath shallow as she waited. She heard the plodding footsteps move across the carpet, and then suddenly come to a halt.


    She felt the bed jolt when the footsteps stopped, as if the person coming for her bumped against the mattress. She opened her eyes unhurriedly; afraid of what – or who – she might see.


    The first thing she envisioned was the murky light emanating from the miner's hat, placed square in the forehead. She sat up in the bed, cold fear gripping her insides. She was terrified, but she had to know who was standing over her with such quiet interest.


    The shadow of Aaron's face showed underneath the miner's hat. His spiky blond hair jutted from the base, his emblematic unshaven appearance seeming like peach-fuzz on a piece of fruit. Mud and coal streamed down his face, as if he were fresh from Misty Canyon Mines.


    The unmistakable fragrance of Aqua Velva assailed her nostrils, filling her with fresh terror. The scent of the aftershave was mingled with dank and moldy earth and the stench of decay.


    His presence petrified her, but it was the stare he directed her way that began the trembling in her body. He was too quiet, too still. It wasn't like him to be so immobile, unless there was a full-scale storm of anger and fisticuffs ahead.


    "How can you be here?" she gasped. "You're dead!"


    He threw back his head and laughed. It was the horrible, maniacal mirth she remembered during his most brutal moments. It triggered a deep hysteria within her, forcing her to scream and retreat. She pulled the covers over her head and continued to scream, squeezing her eyes tightly shut, feeling every nerve ending in her body as if they were on fire.


    When she awoke again, sunlight flooded the room from the open windows. The only sounds were the birds chirping outside, and the gentle wisp of a breeze. She lay still, listening, trying to orientate herself.


    She sat up in bed, a sense of relief coming over her. It was just a dream. She had nothing to worry about, nothing to fear. She swung her legs to the side of the bed, intent on rising to start her day.


    Then she felt a strange sense of wet muck seeping between her toes. She closed her eyes, afraid to look down. What fresh hell was awaiting her now?


    There was a fat streak of mud under her feet, the combination of two very large footprints. A faint sprinkle of black dust surrounded the prints, spread on each side. Then she detected the faint stench of Aqua Velva, barely a wisp of scent but unmistakably present.


    "Mud, coal dust and Aqua Velva," she said. "So it wasn't a dream after all. He was here, and he was laughing at me….or am I simply losing my mind?"


    She stood up, her fear turning to anger. "I have absolutely nothing to feel remorseful about," she scolded herself. "If this insanity is coming about because of some deep-seated guilt over my joy at Aaron's death....well, it's just ridiculous. I did nothing during our marriage to warrant his violent and despicable treatment of me. I stayed and stayed and stayed, accepting his abuse for fear he might kill me. If anything, he should be burning in hell and I should be as free as a bird."


    She moved to the bathroom, where she retrieved a towel to clean the mud on the floor. She would put the incident from her mind and carry on with her day.


    "I won't let the bastard control me from the grave," she promised herself as she cleaned the bedroom floor. "Not now, not ever."



MIND SWEEPER ©2011-16 Deborah O'Toole. All rights reserved.

"Mind Sweeper" may not be reproduced in whole or in part without written permission from the author. "Mind Sweeper" is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is purely coincidental.