Read Jailbird Online

Authors: Heather Huffman

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Jailbird

Jailbird

by:

Heather Huffman

 

Smashwords Edition

 

* * * * *

 

 

Jailbird

Copyright © 2010 Heather Bodendieck

Cover Image Copyright © 2010 Heather
Bodendieck

 

All rights reserved. Without limiting the
rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication
may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system,
or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic,
mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the
prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above
publisher of this book.

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters,
places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the
author's imagination or are used fictitiously. The author
acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various
products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used
without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not
authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark
owners.

 

 

 

Smashwords Edition, License Notes

 

This ebook is licensed for your personal
enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to
other people. If you would like to share this book with another
person, please purchase an additional copy for each person. If
you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not
purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com
and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work
of this author.

 

* * * * *

 

To my husband, Adam, and our three amazing
boys: Dylan, Blake & Christopher. You bring sunshine to my
world and I couldn’t ask for better partners in adventure.

I love you all so very much!

 

* * * * *

 

 

Part One: Rebirth

Chapter One

 

Of all the things I dreamed of being when I
grew up, a convicted felon certainly wasn’t one of them. When my
brother told me scary stories around the campfire, it never
occurred to me that one day my biggest fears would involve being
sent to the Hole—or worse—being found alone by the Chicas.

But even those fears faded as I found myself
out in the hot, sticky night sprinting across the prison lawn.
Bullets sailed past me; one even nicked my ear. I could hear dogs
barking behind me. The shouting seemed to never stop. Guards called
to each other. Inmates cheered me on. I didn’t know where I was
headed, really. The prison sat on a 225-acre compound and I had no
idea what lay beyond its gates. This part of the state wasn’t as
familiar to me as the bayou I called home.

There were times when I thought that night
would never end. I managed to throw the dogs off my trail by
cutting north in a nearby stream. It didn’t slow them down long,
but stuffing pieces of my clothes into nooks and crannies bought me
more time. Only problem with that – it didn’t take too long before
I was streaking through the night in my skivvies.

I came skidding to a halt in front of the
swamp. Like something from a bad dream, murky water loomed before
me. Spanish moss hung from low-lying tree limbs over a black abyss
that was most assuredly home to a gator or two. At the far end of
the water was a fence—a fence that probably had a gap at the
bottom.

The baying of the dogs was growing louder. I
didn’t have long before I’d be cornered again. But with a fire
burning in my lungs, I had to rest. The pounding in my brain made
it impossible to think. I stood stock still and waited for my
breathing to return to normal while I considered my options.

If I tried to make it to the fence, I would
very likely die—painfully. Inside me stirred the knowledge that if
I stayed I would die just as painfully, only that death would be in
very slow increments. There was something to be said for swift
release. And for hope.

To my right, a deer appeared from the forest,
dipping its graceful head to the water’s edge. A creature arose
from the abyss and pulled the deer into the dark with a crack and a
splash. The water seemed to boil with the churning as the gator
rolled the hapless doe. A sane person might have taken that as a
cue to step away from the water’s edge.

I took it as my only chance and dove cleanly
into the black.

I was too scared to try to see my
surroundings, and it would have been too dark anyway. With my eyes
squeezed tight, I swam straight and true towards the fence—not
wanting to think about what would happen if I got myself turned
around. I just kept swimming, expecting to feel the searing pain of
gator teeth on my leg at any instant.

Instead, I felt links of metal at my
fingertips after what seemed like a timeless eternity. I grabbed
the fence and pulled my way to the bottom, my lungs screaming for
air as I struggled to shimmy through the opening I had found.

And then I was on the other side. With a
strong kick, I bulleted to the surface, allowing only my mouth to
break the water as I gulped in the air. I slowly lifted my head,
the commotion on the other side reaching my ears even below water.
The guards thought I was the hapless creature being thrashed in the
water.

I wasn’t about to stick around to see how
many other gators this watering hole housed. The shore was close
now. With another deep breath, I went back under and swam towards
the stump of a nearby Cypress tree, pulling myself up quietly.

I hugged the stump close, welcoming the itchy
bark and waiting for the men on the other side to get bored
watching my demise. One of my mama’s stories floated through my
mind as I clung to that tree—Daniel in the lions’ den. If guardian
angels were assigned to people like me, I was pretty sure mine had
been on her toes tonight.

I hugged the tree for so long I might have
even dozed off. I tried to stay alert, knowing that as soon as the
little party broke up, I would need to get as far away as I could.
The stale water dripping from me seemed to be masking my scent from
the dogs, but I wasn’t too keen on finding out how long my luck
would hold in that regard.

When I was finally alone, I left the safety
of the tree and began to walk. My legs were wobbly now that the
adrenaline was starting to ebb from my body. The reality of what
I’d done was struggling to set in; I did my best to thrust it
away.

Despite the muggy night, I felt chilled to
the bone. I pushed forward until my legs could move no more.
Eventually I found a hunter’s tree stand that offered some
protection for me to rest, and I fell asleep as the first rays of
dawn crept across the sky.

I woke up again when the sun was high,
covered in sweat with an aching throat. I stiffly sat up, leaning
against the wooden wall to ponder my next move. The sunbeams
slicing through the tree canopy reflected off a piece of metal in
the far corner of the stand. It was a small pocketknife, not unlike
the one my brother had cherished as a child. It felt a whole lot
like stealing, but I grabbed the prize anyway. I was sure this
little knife would come in handy.

A quick peek over the wall assured me I was
still alone in the forest. Sitting in a tree stand wasn’t going to
accomplish much, so I reluctantly climbed down and began looking
for tree moss. Besides my black hair and eyes, my Coushatta father
had given me the ability to track. I might not know where I was
exactly but figured if I headed north it would eventually lead me
out of Louisiana and away from the Dixon Correctional
Institute.

Just when I thought I would surely die
without a drink, I heard water in the distance. I followed my ears
and was rewarded with a cool stream where I drank my fill and did
my best to wash myself off. What I would have given for a shower
and some clean clothes at that moment. For that matter, food would
have been pretty welcome, too.

I came across a homestead and stole a t-shirt
and a pair of sweat shorts off the line. I felt bad, but desperate
is as desperate does. The clothes hung off of my slight frame, but
at least I was no longer wandering around in my bra and
panties.

By the time I crossed the Arkansas state
line, I’d lost count of the sunsets and still had managed to avoid
contact with another human being. My pocket knife had come in
pretty handy. I’d used it to cut my hair, dig up roots for dinner,
and skin a fish I’d been lucky enough to catch.

The realization was quickly settling in that
unless I wanted to spend the rest of my life wandering the woods
alone, I would eventually have to rejoin society. Given my current
appearance, I wasn’t real sure how to do that without raising
suspicion. For about two seconds, I toyed with the idea of calling
my brother. I tossed the thought aside, knowing I’d put him at risk
if I did and got caught.

I debated my choices for days, maybe it was
weeks. My mind raced round and round. I didn’t know if anyone was
looking for me or if my story had made the news. I knew I’d die
before I let anyone take me back to that place. I was afraid to
hope for better. So I just kept walking.

And then the solution presented itself when I
stumbled across a field full of day laborers. I stood at the edge
of the woods, watching them for a bit.

A Hispanic woman working the patch of ground
nearest to me locked eyes with mine. She gave a small, knowing
smile and a barely perceptible nod to join her. I didn’t question
her motives; this was my best chance.

The day was hot and long; the work was hard.
Neither of us spoke, but it felt good to be in the presence of
another human again. My stomach clenched in a knot when the foreman
came to check on our progress, but he didn’t look past my dark hair
and eyes to see I wasn’t part of the small Hispanic group who had
worked me into their mix.

I didn’t know where I’d go next, but at least
I had a couple of dollars in my pocket now. It was a start. When
the woman who’d introduced herself as Anjelita invited me home, I
followed. They gave me a hot meal and a couch to sleep on. More
importantly, Anjelita and her family welcomed me into their fold
without question. I found myself no longer alone.

 

 

 

Chapter Two

 

I tagged along with them for the rest of the
week. While my mind was constantly working, trying to figure out
what I should do next, I was outwardly just along for the ride.
Saturday came and the family loaded up a beaten-down old truck with
vegetables and headed towards the town square.

It felt like stepping back in time to another
era. I wouldn’t have been at all surprised to see a Ford Fairlane
cruising down the street. The Torres family pulled their old Chevy
onto the grass at the corner of the town square and we all piled
out, working in perfect concert to set up a vegetable stand out of
the back of the truck. I didn’t need direction; I’d spent enough
time as a little girl selling jewelry alongside my own family.

After everything was set up, Anjelita shooed
me away, saying I should use the time to do a little bit of
shopping. I would have argued, but I desperately needed a change of
clothes. I’m sure Anjelita would have given me the clothes off her
own back, but our frames were considerably different. If I had
inherited my father’s complexion, my French-Creole mother had given
me the gift of fine bones and a slight build.

There was only one clothing store on the
little square and it was mostly filled with items on consignment.
Thankfully, there had to be at least one other slight person in
this town because I found a stash of clothes towards the back of
the store that seemed to be made for me.

I bought a pair of shorts, a t-shirt and a
cotton dress. Then I really splurged and bought a couple of pairs
of underwear and some flip-flops. That pretty much wiped me out of
cash. With a little luck, I’d be able to go fishing later to
provide food for the family who’d provided so generously for
me.

Before I rejoined my little group, I took a
minute to change clothes in the store’s employee restroom. I almost
felt human as I eyed my reflection in the dirty little mirror. My
face was a little gaunt, but then it had been for years now. All in
all, I looked as good as I did on any other day. I actually kind of
liked the short, shaggy haircut I’d given myself while wandering in
the woods.

A little girl had joined Anjelita’s family
and was playing with their seven-year-old daughter. I smiled at the
little girl and returned her wave. She was a cute little thing with
big blonde curls and even bigger blue eyes. I gave Anjelita a
grateful smile when she complimented my new attire, then settled on
the tailgate of the truck and allowed my gaze to wander around the
square.

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