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 Eight

January 2001

Life in Ivytown


    FOR APPEARANCES SAKE, Aaron took Beth to the Ivytown Clinic rather than the hospital in Portland, the one and only time he used the local medical services during their marriage.


    "How would it look if I took you to Portland now?" he asked from the driver's seat of the Bronco. "Falling down the stairs and losing the baby. . .it wouldn't do if people found out I hauled you to Portland rather than the local medical facility."


    Beth lay in the back of the Bronco, her face pressed to the fabric of the seat. Blood seeped from her nose and dripped onto the floor. If Aaron saw the mess, he would beat her again for sure. "But I have nowhere else to go," she thought incoherently. "What would he have me do? Hang my head out the window?"


    What seemed like minutes later – or was it hours? – Beth found herself being tended by Roger Ellison, Aaron's high school friend and local resident doctor. Beth knew Roger was on his second marriage, the first one having ended in acrimonious divorce and hefty child support payments. His second wife, a native of Seattle, was pregnant with his third child and he seemed sublimely happier than the first time around.


    Roger was visibly alarmed when Aaron brought Beth into the clinic. He rushed into the sparse waiting area, heading directly to Beth as she sat in one of the pale yellow chairs made of uncomfortable heavy plastic. Aaron stood next to her.


    "What in God's name happened?" Roger exclaimed, taking in Beth's swollen face, the dried blood in her nostrils and the dark red fluid seeping through the front of her skirt. He also noted her labored breathing and her glassy stare.


    "My baby," Beth sobbed, glad to see Roger's concerned face. "And my ribs … I think I broke my …"


    "She fell down the stairs, Rog," Aaron cut in, glancing harshly at his wife. "She had a few glasses of wine, I think, went upstairs for something, and when she came back down she tripped and fell …"


    Roger grabbed Beth by the elbow. "What's this about a baby?"


    "She's pregnant," Aaron said flatly before Beth could speak.


    "Let's get you into one of the exam rooms," Roger said gently, helping Beth from the chair. "Can you manage to walk a few feet?"


    She winced in pain at the movement, but nodded. "I think so."


    An hour later, Beth was sedated and lying on a gurney in one of the curtained-off exam rooms. She was sore, but pleasantly drowsy. Roger came in and out to check on her, while a nurse tended to her periodically.


    Aaron hovered in the background, glaring at her when he thought no one was looking, warning her to keep silent with his eyes. Or face the consequences, she thought.


    At some point, Beth recalled Roger pausing at her side, checking her pulse and taking her temperature. He drew the white plastic curtains around her gurney, ushering Aaron outside the area with a wave of his hand. Reluctantly, Aaron moved away.


    As he took her pulse, Roger looked at Beth and spoke softly. "You realize you lost your baby, don't you?"


    "Yes," her voice came out as a croaked whisper.


    "There was no permanent damage," Roger continued. "You should be able to have more children."


    Beth said nothing, turning her head away slightly. How could she tell Roger there would be no more children? That Aaron didn't want kids because he was afraid she would become fat? Or was Roger already aware of Aaron's peculiarities, having the good grace not to mention them?


    "I wasn't drunk," she said suddenly, turning her head back to look at the doctor.


    He leaned closer. "Sorry?"


    "I wasn't drunk," she repeated.


    "You mean you weren't tipsy when you fell down the stairs?"


    "Right," she agreed. "I wasn't even remotely tipsy."


    Roger was silent for a moment, an expression of confusion flickering across his face. "Then what happened?" he asked her at length.


    Beth's attention was drawn behind Roger to a half-inch gap between the curtain closing. She saw Aaron's shadow through the curtain, and one of his eyes peering through the gap.


    The immense anger transmitted by his eye, the electric hatred shooting directly at her, sent a shiver of fear through her body. He was watching, and listening to every word. He was letting her know if she made one wrong move it would mean her own death – one way or another.


    The overhead light of the exam room cast the hint of a shadow over Aaron's face through the curtain gap. It made him appear more menacing and evil, capable of cold-bloodedly extinguishing her life if the spirit moved him.


    "I was just clumsy," Beth finally spoke, her eyes darting to Roger. "I was at the top of the stairs when the rubber sole of my shoe skidded on the carpet." Please notice that I'm not wearing rubber-soled shoes, she begged silently. Aloud, she continued: "It was a silly, stupid accident." She paused. "But I was not drunk," she reiterated.


    "Beth, you're going to be okay," Roger told her, his tone soothing. "Please don't blame yourself for this, don't let guilt consume you."


    Roger took her explanation as an encroachment of guilt, assuming she blamed herself for the "fall" and therefore the loss of her baby. It was best to let him think so, and safer not further aggravate Aaron with any more broad hints.


    "Thank you Roger," Beth said weakly, feeling a wave of sedative wash over her.


    "I want you to rest a little while longer and then you can go home," Roger said, touching her hand on the rough medical coverlet.


    "Whatever you think best," she said drowsily, closing her eyes.


    A minute later she heard Roger and Aaron conversing in low tones on the other side of the curtain, but she could not make out their words.


    "They're probably talking about me," she thought, opening her eyes to look at the exam room ceiling. "Talking about me and the baby." She closed her eyes again, squeezing her lids tightly as she felt hot tears beginning to form. "A few hours ago I had a child growing inside of me. In one violent swoop, Aaron took my baby away from me. How can I ever begin to possibly forgive him? How can I stay with him now, knowing the kind of monster he truly is?"


    She wiped her eyes with the palm of her hand. "Because he'll kill me if I try to leave him. I'm stuck … trapped in a marriage that is hell on earth … with a psychotic tyrant who really doesn't know what it means to be a man …"



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.