Authors: April Henry
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Dedicated to the memory of Bridget Zinn (1977â2011), writer, librarian, friend, wifeâa vibrant woman who could make an ordinary day into an occasion
DAY 1, 4:51 P.M.
I wake up.
But wake up isn't quite right. That implies sleeping. A bed. A pillow.
I come to.
Instead of a pillow, my right cheek is pressed against something hard, rough, and gritty. A worn wood floor.
My mouth tastes like old pennies. Blood. With my eyes still closed, I gently touch my teeth with my tongue. One of them feels loose. The inside of my mouth is shredded and sore. My head aches and there's a faint buzzing in one ear.
And something is wrong with my left hand. The tips of my pinkie and ring finger throb with every beat of my heart. The pain is sharp and red.
Two men are talking, their voices a low murmur. Something about no one coming for me. Something about it's too late.
I decide to keep my eyes closed. Not to move. I'm not sure I could anyway. It's not only my tooth that feels wrong.
Footsteps move closer to me. A shoe kicks me in the ribs. Not very hard. More like a nudge. Still, I don't allow myself to react. Through slitted eyes, I see two pairs of men's shoes. One pair of brown boots and one pair of red-brown dress shoes that shade to black on the toes. A distant part of me thinks the color is called oxblood.
“She doesn't know anything,” a man says. He doesn't sound angry or even upset. It's a simple statement of fact.
I realize he's right. I don't know anything. What's wrong with me, where I am, who they are. And when I try to think about who I am, what I get is: nothing. A big gray hole. All I know for sure is that I must be in trouble.
“I need to get back to Portland and follow our leads there,” the other man says. “You need to take care of things here. Take her out back and finish her off.”
“But she's just a kid,” the first man says. His tone is not quite so neutral now.
“A kid?” The second man's voice hardens. “If she talks to the cops, she could get us both sent to death row. It's either her or us. It's that simple.” His footsteps move away from me. “Call me when you're done.”
The other man nudges me with his foot again. A little harder this time.
Behind me, I hear a door open and close.
“Come on. Get up.” With a sigh, he leans over and grabs me under my arms. Grunting, he hauls me up from behind. His breath smells bitter, like coffee. I try to keep my body limp, but when my left hand brushes the floor, the pain in my fingers is an electric shock. My legs stiffen and he pulls me to my feet.
“That's right,” he says, nudging me forward while still holding me up. “We're going to take a little walk.”
Since he already knows that I'm conscious, I figure I can open my eyes halfway. We're in what looks like a cabin, with knotty pine walls and a black wood-burning stove. Yellow stuffing spills from sliced cushions on an old plaid couch and a green high-backed chair. Books lie splayed below an emptied bookcase. Someone was obviously looking for something, but I don't know what, and I don't know if they found it. Past the red-and-white-checkered curtains lie nothing but fir trees.
With the guy's arm clamped around my shoulders, I stumble past a table with four wood chairs. One of them is turned away from the table. Ropes loosely encircle the arms. A pair of bloody pliers sits on the table next to what seems like two silver-white chips mostly painted pink.
I look down at my limp left hand. Pink polish on three of the nails. The tips of the last two fingers are wet and red where nails used to be.
I think I know where I was before I ended up on the floor.
I keep every step small and shuffling so that he's half carrying me. It's not easy because he's not much bigger than me, maybe five foot nine. The guy mutters under his breath, but that's all. Maybe he doesn't want to get to where we are going any more than I do. The back door is about twenty feet away.
Outside, a car starts up and then drives away. The only other sounds are the wind in the trees outside and the man grunting every now and then as he tries to make my body walk in a straight line.
Wherever we are, I think we're alone. It's just me and this guy. And once he manages to get me out the door, he'll follow instructions.
He'll finish me off.
DAY 1, 4:54 P.M.
We keep walking toward the back door of the cabin. Except the guy holding me up is doing most of the walking. My left knee bangs into the nearest chair. I don't lift my feet, letting my toes drag on the floor. I'm trying to buy myself some time. Trying to figure out how to save myself. My half-closed eyes flick from side to side, looking for a weapon. Looking for anything that could help me. But there's no iron poker next to the woodstove, no knives on the counter, no old-fashioned black telephone on the wall. Just gaping drawers and emptied-out cupboards and a big mess on the floorâcookie sheets and cans and dishtowels and boxes of cereal and crackers that have been upended and shaken empty.
He has to take one hand away from me to open the door.
Don't act. Be,
a voice whispers inside my head. I picture my consciousness dwindling. I let my body go limp, and slide from his grasp. It's tough to stay slack when my fingertips hit the rough wood. The pain arcs up my arm like I just stuck my fingers in a light socket. Still, I keep tumbling loosely to the floor as if I'm completely out.
Playing dead. Hoping I won't
dead soon. Maybe if he thinks I'm unconscious, he'll let his guard down.
With a sigh, the man steps over me, and kicks the door open, letting in a wave of cold air. He leans down and rolls me over so that I'm face up again. It's so hard not to stiffen, especially as every bit of me feels tender and bruised, but I bite my tongue and try to remain loose. Then he grabs me under the arms and begins to drag me backward, grunting at every step. His chin brushes the top of my head.
He can't see my face. I wonder if that's a mistake. It will be easier to kill me if he doesn't have to look into my pleading eyes. Doesn't have to see my lips tremble as I beg for my life.
My feet thump over the sill. I open my eyes again. I see a worn earthen path stretching back to the cabin, my feet in blue Nike running shoes, my legs in skinny jeans. Reddish brown stains splotch the thighs. I wonder if the blood is only from my fingers.
I let my hands, even the broken one, trail along the ground. Under my fingertips, I feel cold earth, ridged with footprints, muddy in spots. A stick about as big around as one of my fingers. And then my good hand closes on a rock, small enough to fit into my palm, rounded on one side, with one sharp edge.
If this man has a gunâwhich seems more than likelyâthe rock won't help me much. Even David had the help of a sling when he used a stone to kill Goliath.
The going is easier now. Pine trees surround us and my heels slide over copper-colored needles. I can't imagine this guy, who by now is breathing heavily, will drag me for miles and miles. Soon he'll drop me, take out his more-than-likely gun, and shoot me in the head. Or the heart. Or maybe both.
I'm going to die and I don't know why.
I don't even know who I am.
I wonder if he'll bother to bury me. Or maybe he'll just leave my body for whatever lives in these woods.
The thought is so fierce I have to clamp my lips together to keep from shouting it. I can't wait for
to choose what happens to me. I can't just wait for him to kill me.
He's dragging me past a small tree. I stick out one leg and hook my foot around the trunk. We jerk to a stop.
“Come on now.” He sighs. “Let's not make this harder than it has to be.”
He lifts me to reposition his grip. I manage to get my feet under me. He's so close his breath stirs the hair on the nape of my neck.
I don't know what I'm going to do until suddenly I'm doing it. My right elbow drives back like a piston, landing square in his belly. He grunts in an explosion of air and starts to fold up. The bottom of my right fist is already swinging down to hammer his groin. And then I swing my hand up, twisting it until the back of my fist hits him square in the face. Hard. And made even harder by the rock I hold in my hand. Under my knuckles, I feel the bridge of his nose crack.
I spin around to face him. His eyes are half closed in pain. Blood runs from his nose, red as paint. His right hand reaches out to grab me. My left hand rises, bent at the wrist like the neck of a crane, and knocks his hand away. Then my hand snaps back and claws down, fingers spread, my remaining fingernails digging into his cheeks, leaving furrows that immediately fill with blood. He cries out and puts his hands to his face.
Leaving his throat unprotected. I draw back my hand, my fingers close together and bent at the second knuckle. And I drive them into his throat as hard as I can.