5 star thriller, Author Lada Ray, Berkshires MA, BOOK: Stepford USA, cat mystery, cozy mystery, humor, Jade Snow, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, psychological mystery thriller, romance, STEPFORD KNITTING CLUB, Stepford USA (Accidental Spy Small Town Adventure), Stepford Wives, Stockbridge MA, whodunnit, women's literature
Great news! Last week’s experiment with posting an excerpt from THE EARTH SHIFTER proved to be so successful that I decided to continue this new tradition (read ES excerpt here). So, going forward on Sundays, I’ll be posting excerpts from my various books.
This particular scene from STEPFORD USA (Accidental Spy Small Town Adventure) is set at a mental clinic located in the seemingly idyllic town of Stepford in the midst of the picturesque Berkshire Mountains, Massachusetts. The name of the town is fictional, but bears resemblance to the real local towns, namely Sheffield, Lenox, and especially Stockbridge, MA. While writing STEPFORD USA I lived in the area before moving back to New York. I wrote the setting in real time based on my observations and experiences, and perhaps because of that it appears so vivid, down to the smallest details.
The surreal scene at the Berkshire Hope Clinic reminds me a little of the One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest; and more (of course, this applies to the whole book) – of The Stepford Wives. But you be the judge!
In this scene the heroine, Jade Snow, and her friend, Rachel Weise, visit Rebbecca at the clinic where the mute victim of the long forgotten, and conveniently swept under the carpet, rape has been a long-term patient… um… prisoner. Until Jade shows up and starts questioning things that haven’t been questioned before in this town of conformity and behind the scenes deals.
In addition to whodunnit and howdunnit, STEPFORD USA contains social satire, psychic visions, adorable and pretty amazing kitty & doggie, as well as a generous helping of humor. Oh yeah, and how could I forget the Gossip Central of the Berkshires: the infamous STEPFORD KNITTING CLUB, who unwittingly help Jade solve the puzzle! Sorry – no robots, if you don’t count some Stepford residents ;).
In Stepford, every edifice of any significance seemed to be located on Main Street. So, not very surprisingly, the Berkshire Hope Clinic was just a few short blocks down the road from the Blue Peacock Inn. The towering red brick mansion, complete with a grand, white columned entrance, was thoroughly in line with the town’s old colonial mystique.
Nurse Blake met us at the front desk with a perfunctory smile.
“Hi,” she said. “I am the head nurse and I understand you are…” She paused, looking inquiringly at Rachel.
“Rachel Weise,” Rachel extended her hand. “Thanks for allowing me a visit on such short notice.
“No problem, Dr. Weise,” said Nurse Blake. “Although our chief physician is on vacation till next Monday, we are very familiar with Professor Strauss’s work and any of his associates are welcome here.”
She turned to me. “And you would be?”
“This is my friend, Jade Snow,” introduced me Rachel, “who is hosting me here, in Stepford. She has graciously agreed to drive me to the clinic and I’d feel uncomfortable leaving her in the lobby after everything she’s done. I hope you don’t mind if she joins me?”
“Jade Snow?” asked nurse Blake. “Aren’t you a part of the Stepford Knitting Club?”
“Guilty as charged,” I said.
“My daughter, Shawna, attends it too. She spoke very highly of you. It’s very nice to meet you. I am Janet Blake.” I shook nurse’s hand as she ushered us into the long-term ward.
“I’m actually very glad to see anyone visit Rebbecca,” confessed Nurse Blake, as she led us down the long corridor. “She’s been here so long, almost thirteen years… And very few people come to visit her any more. Just our local guys, Marc Catcham and Jack Maloof. Chief Nordini comes sometimes and I saw Peter Burns a few times, but not too often. Very nice people they all are, God bless them.” She opened the door at the end of the corridor, inviting us in.
The narrow room we entered had a simple bed by the window, a bunch of flowers in a small vase atop a bed stand, a side table with photographs and a chair in the corner. Another chair was brought in for us. Through a slightly open window, the upbeat chirping of birds could be heard from the garden, as the gentle breeze delicately fluttered the white curtain.
The room itself didn’t stand out in any way, but our eyes immediately drifted to, and fixed on, the still figure draped in a long hospital gown. The figure sat on the edge of the bed, looking straight ahead with unseeing eyes.
Mrs. Blake’s demeanor changed dramatically once she entered the room. She was now a caring nurse, no longer an efficient administrator we had met in the lobby. She checked the pulse on the limp, painfully thin arm and spoke kindly to the still figure on the bed, “We like it when someone comes to visit us, don’t we Becca?”
She pointed at us. “These two nice young ladies wanted to talk to you for a bit. You don’t mind, do you, Becca?”
The gaunt figure on the bed didn’t move, nor produced a sound to indicate she heard or noticed us. She just lowered her eyelids with long, curved eyelashes and continued sitting still, now with her eyes closed.
I recognized those eyelashes right away. I saw them on the picture from the old yearbook, a picture of a happy, healthy and beautiful eighteen year old girl. Those eyelashes seemed to be the only thing that still remained of the old Rebbecca, a sad reminder of what could have been.
As we sat on our chairs, Nurse Blake tiptoed out of the room and quietly closed the door behind her.
“Hello, Rebbecca,” said Rachel cheerfully. “Do you mind if we talk with you for a while?”
The figure on the bed didn’t move, sitting as still as before, her eyelashes lowered.
Rachel and I looked at each other, trying to decide how to proceed. I cleared my throat.
“Hi Rebbecca,” I started quietly. “My name is Jade Snow. And this is Rachel Weise. We live in New York City, but I am staying here, in Stepford, to write my book. And Rachel is visiting me for the weekend.”
It seemed nothing has changed, but did I detect a slight flutter of the eyelashes? I almost dismissed the thought as wishful thinking, when I noticed Rachel’s intense gaze fixed on Rebbecca. Did she notice it, too?
I continued, while observing Rebbecca closely. “I am a journalist and I’ve worked in Iraq and Afghanistan for the past two years. But then I got married. My husband, who is traveling in Africa, suggested I move to Stepford while he’s away.”
It was unmistakable this time, the flutter of the eyelashes, the slight opening of the eyes.
Rachel and I stared at each other.
“Keep talking,” mouthed Rachel.
“Rebbecca, my husband thought that it would be good for me to be here, while he is traveling. This being such a paradise and all. Because I am pregnant, you see.”
The figure continued sitting still on the bed, but something in her has changed. The eyes were now open. Then, they shifted slightly to the right, towards the open window. Rachel and I exchanged glances.
“The window,” mouthed Rachel. “She wants it closed.”
I got up and maneuvered past the still figure on the bed. I closed the window, conscious of Rebbecca’s eyes on my back. Then, I smoothed out the curtain and started back to my chair. As I passed the bed, someone grabbed my left forearm so forcefully that I jumped. I looked down, perplexed. Rebbecca was holding on to me with such strength that I would have never suspected from those limp fingers.
Her eyes were now looking up straight into mine. Her lips were moving, but no sound came out.
“Can I help you, Rebbecca?” I said, alarmed.
The lips moved once more and as I leaned closer to her mouth, trying to listen, it hit me again. A quick flash, but this time much clearer. Night grass was damp and the moon in the sky was bright. The young woman in a summer dress turned to rags fought with every last bit of strength left in her. But what could she do, sprawled helplessly on damp ground, against two strong men? One of them slapped her hard, and kept slapping, till she bled. Another kicked her. And then, right before the lights went out and her tortured body, mercifully, felt no more, another, large and menacing form appeared, blocking the stars and the moonlight…
I gasped and jerked my hand out of Rebbecca’s grip. Swaying dangerously, I tried to steady myself. The next thing I knew, Rachel’s arm was around me, keeping me from falling. A sudden fit of excruciating coughing made me bend forward, toward Rebbecca, while holding on to the bed frame for extra balance. As I did, I glanced at the woman sitting on the bed. Her pose was now more relaxed, eyes fully open, gaze fixed on my face. It occurred to me that we were making progress and that, if I continued talking, we would soon get somewhere. But first, I needed to get back to my chair and rest a minute or two, because I felt exhausted and sick after yet another shocking encounter with Rebbecca’s rape.
Rachel, her arm still around me, and I, still bent over next to the bed, were about to start moving back to our chairs, when the door suddenly opened and Nurse Blake hurriedly entered the room. Rebbecca immediately shrunk back, fear registering on her gaunt face. The nurse frowned, throwing a quick glance around the room. It was hard not to notice the changes and it was clear, she didn’t like what she saw. The window closed; both visitors out of their chairs and in very strange poses; me, holding on to the bed frame and both of us leaning toward the woman, who appeared to shrink away in fear. God only knows what passed through the nurse’s mind when she caught us like this, but one look at her face told me that ours was a lost cause. Her words confirmed it.
“I am afraid, Becca had enough excitement for the day,” said Nurse Blake coldly. She avoided looking in our direction, while forcefully opening the door to let us out. “She needs her rest now.”
It was clear that nothing we could say or do would change the fact that we were no longer welcome in this establishment. Nurse Blake accompanied us in silence to the front door and stood in the open doorway, like a sentinel, while we walked to the car. As we drove out of the clinic, we noticed a security vehicle following us to the exit, making sure we left for good.
STEPFORD USA, as well as all my other books (both paperbacks and ebooks), can now be purchased from multiple sources, including Amazon, Barnes&Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, Sony, Apple, etc. Profits from my book sales go to America’s oldest no-kill animal shelter, Tompkins County SPCA in Ithaca, NY; and to Siberian Tiger rescue project in Russia. Read more about that here!
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