Romantic Mystery Novel
a whodunit by Barbara W. Klaser
|There's a little bit of sleuth in everyone....
Shadows Fall is a romantic mystery set in an old, closed mountain resort, in the Sierra Nevada of California.
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Beth wakened a couple of hours later to find Abby lying beside her on the bed, watching her. Abby sat up. "Hi Mommy. Did you have a good nap?"
"Yes. Did you?"
"Uh-huh. Grandma looked at you, to see if you were okay." She switched to a whisper, "We were quiet."
"You certainly were," Beth whispered back, uneasy that she hadn't wakened. She was usually a light sleeper.
"And you didn't have any bad dreams."
"No." Beth tossed the afghan aside and swung her legs off the bed, still half-asleep. "Abby, I'm sorry I wake you sometimes when I have bad dreams. Does that bother you very much?"
"It used to scare me, when I was little, but it doesn't anymore."
Abby still seemed little to Beth, though she sounded far too grownup at times. "Good, because it's just silly for me to have bad dreams so often. It's not anything that should worry you."
"You're not silly, Mommy." Abby hugged her. Then she jumped off the bed, tugging at Beth's hand. "Come on! Hair, face, teeth!"
Beth let her giggling daughter lead her into the bathroom.
Minutes later, Abby ran out of the room ahead of Beth, and bounded down the stairs in search of her grandmother, with an armload of dolls.
"Slow down. You're in the house!" Beth called after her.
"Get some sleep?" Jack stood in the hallway outside his door.
"Yes, thanks." Beth started to follow Abby, but Jack moved to block her way.
"I want to apologize for the other night."
He lowered his eyes. "I said some rotten things. I shouldn't have brought Abby into it, and I shouldn't have said anything at dinner. Mom's right about that. I just don't understand why she's still trying to push the Lodge at you. Of course you don't want it now. Do you?"
Her mother had only tried to persuade her to stay once. Why was he so worried about it? Beth remained silent, and watched him.
"Anyway, I'm sorry." His piercing silver-green eyes, prominent cheekbones and curly auburn hair weren't all that reminded her of her father. Lauren Gray had been an intense man. Jack was more like him than anyone.
"Okay," she said, feeling the response had been coerced out of her.
He started to move away.
"Jack, I didn't come here with the idea of disrupting anyone's life. I'm here for a rest. I really need it, and I want Abby to know Mom. That's all. Can we be at peace while I'm here, and part on peaceful terms? I'd really appreciate that."
He appeared to consider her words, watching her face. Then he let out a breath. "Sure." He entered his room and closed the door.
Beth wakened mid-scream, out of breath and drenched in sweat. She sat up, breathless, and grateful for the air she breathed. It was two-thirty in the morning.
"Beth!" Matt rattled the doorknob. "Let me in."
She grabbed her robe, opened the door and gestured him in, whispering, "Be quiet."
"Be quiet?" He looked amazed.
"Beth?" Emily appeared in the hallway in her robe and slippers. "What happened?"
"It's just a d-dream." Beth pulled her robe on with fumbling hands. Matt hit the light switch, and Beth blinked at the two of them. "I'm s-s-sorry." Her teeth chattered.
Then Matt's arm was around her. He steered her to her bed, sat beside her and held her. She kept shivering.
"Mommy?" Abby said, standing in her doorway, her voice stuffy with tears.
"Mom," Matt said softly, and nodded his head toward Abby.
"Yes." Emily appeared suddenly to make sense of the situation. She took Abby by the hand and led her back to bed.
"Beth, what's wrong?" Rita stood with Vicky and Jack outside the open hall door.
"It was a nightmare," Matt told them. "Close the door, Rita." Matt dragged the quilt off the bed and wrapped it around Beth. "Some nightmare, Beth." He rubbed her arms.
She nodded and swallowed hard. "The demon."
"My name for it. I don't have it often, but it scares the hell out of me." She nodded her head toward the door. "And everyone else."
"How often does the demon strike?"
"Last time was in the hospital. It may be the reason my doctor insisted on a long vacation."
"That would do it. You have nightmares every night, or just here?"
"Lately, at home too. They're more frequent than ever. I don't know why."
"What do you suppose triggered the demon?"
"My knee. It was cold today, and it snowed. That made my knee ache."
"What's wrong with your knee?"
She glanced at Abby's door, through which her mother had vanished. "I injured it a few years ago."
"What does that have to do with a bad dream?"
"Everything. It—" She stopped, looked at Matt. He watched her face. "Nothing."
"Come on, Beth." He grasped her hands. "Your hands are freezing, and you're still shaking. I'm calling Peter." He reached for the telephone.
"No! Please don't disturb him. I've already wakened everyone else. I'm all right, Matt, really. You and Mom go back to bed. I'll sit with Abby."
He held her fast. "Beth, you're in no state to calm a frightened kid. Mom can handle Abby, and she wants to. Will you please talk to me about this? What was the dream about?"
She took a long time to make up her mind, but his arms around her and his watchful eyes somehow convinced her to trust him. "I don't want Mom to know. The dream is related to something that happened in prison."
"Shit," Matt murmured. Beth hesitated. "Sorry," he said. "Go on. What happened?"
"I was in the infirmary to get my pill. They gave me tranquilizers."
"What puts you in such a good mood, the pills or Tilly?" the guard named Corcoran asked. Beth wanted to turn and look at her, but kept moving, reminding herself this wasn't Wilder. Corcoran was one of the less belligerent guards, but you had to be careful what you said to the uniforms, no matter how they treated you.
Inside the infirmary, the nurse named Tilly welcomed Beth with a dazzling smile. "What are you doin' here, girl?" She stood with her hands on her big hips, her mahogany skin glowing, her teeth as white as her uniform. She always greeted Beth the same way.
"Fifteen years, and I need drugs to get me through them." Beth's greeting changed with her mood. Today she was edgy.
Tilly gave her a long look. "Sit down. There's a new magazine."
Beth picked up the months-old copy of Glamour and flipped it open. She paused to swallow a pill and water, then went on flipping pages restlessly, hardly glimpsing what was on them.
At home she would've run along the lake road on a morning she felt this way. She could run here, at certain times, but it didn't empty out the disquiet that filled her. She couldn't run far enough to escape the shadows of the night, and no trees or lake fed her on their peace.
"Open," Tilly said, and checked inside Beth's mouth with a penlight to make sure she'd swallowed the pill. "New doctor's here. He's reading your file. He wants to talk to you."
"I don't want to talk to him." Beth put the magazine down.
"You haven't met him."
Beth spoke quietly, because she didn't want either Corcoran or the new doctor to hear. "I grew up with a doctor. Why do I have to keep answering to them?"
"I keep asking myself the same thing. Guess I need to retire, and you ought to have stayed out of trouble. Just do what you're told, honey."
Beth kept her gaze on her hands, afraid to meet Tilly's.
"Fine, you just sit there and look at those pretty white hands. I won't let you shut me out."
A man in a white coat approached. He was young, with inquisitive eyes. Tilly turned to him. "Dr. Severn, this is Elizabeth Gray."
"Beth. Good morning." Beth smiled and stuck out her hand. Her greeting was a reflex, something her father had reinforced since birth. Dr. Severn stared at her, then glanced at Tilly.
"Our one and only charm school graduate. She's had her med." Tilly moved away. The doctor started in with his questions.
Several minutes later Beth walked to the door, unsettled after talking about things her father had insisted she keep quiet. She'd never known precisely what it was her father had feared about those things, but Beth always feared speaking of them. She liked Dr. Severn, though. He seemed to know all the right questions to ask. A secret compartment had opened up inside her, and she'd wanted to empty it out.
Corcoran opened the door and motioned Beth ahead of her.
Out in the hallway, another guard and inmate met them. It struck Beth as peculiar that the other inmate followed rather than preceded the guard toward the infirmary. As Beth passed them and glimpsed the gun the inmate held to the uniform's back, the inmate looked at Beth with cold, feral eyes. The hair raised up on Beth's arms and her insides went slack. Where had this woman gotten a gun? The guards weren't armed with guns. The thought flashed through Beth's mind, but was as quickly driven from it.
Corcoran shouted, behind Beth, and the gun fired. Corcoran slumped to the floor. The other inmate urged the other guard on toward the infirmary. Beth glanced around. Another uniformed body lay on the floor across the hallway, motionless. Beth knelt beside Corcoran, tried to rouse her. "Corcoran?"
Corcoran didn't stir, but she was breathing.
Beth didn't have time to go look at the other guard. The inmate with the gun and guard-hostage were now entering the infirmary. The door was closing.
Tilly! Beth ran back in, catching the door just before it closed. Her pulse pounded in her ears and her breath rasped in and out so loudly that she couldn't hear herself think. She hung near the door and watched the armed inmate advance into the room behind the guard. Tilly and the doctor stood behind a desk with their backs to the door, intent on their conversation. Hadn't they heard the shots, Beth wondered? Then Tilly glanced over her shoulder and met Beth's gaze. Dr. Severn turned and walked toward the guard.
"Tilly get down!" Beth called.
The inmate shoved the guard aside and fired. The doctor crumpled to the floor. Tilly moved, but no more than a few inches before the woman fired again and she fell. "Tilly!" Beth screamed. The inmate swung around and aimed the gun at Beth.
Time seemed to stand still for an instant. Then it moved very slowly. The guard hit the inmate from the side, jarring her. The gun went off, dropped to the floor, and the guard and the inmate fought. The inmate was larger and faster. She knocked the guard to the floor, then snatched up a chair and hit her with it repeatedly.
They moved nearer the door as they fought, away from where the gun had fallen. Beth darted in that direction, attempting to escape the fight, and to get a glimpse of Tilly. The gun lay on the floor in her path. Beth stopped and stared at it.
The inmate started toward it. "Get out of my way."
Beth seized a metal stool, swung it, and the inmate ducked and backed away two steps, cursing. Then she continued toward the gun.
This time Beth waited until the inmate passed her. Beth hit her hard, with the wooden seat of the stool. The inmate fell. Her eyes were open, blinking, but she didn't move.
The guard lay on the floor across the room, watching Beth and the gun. She appeared unable to come get it. She pleaded with her eyes, and Beth knew what the guard wanted her to do. Beth stood over the gun and stared at it, sweating. Then she squatted and reached for it.
Her father's pistol was in her hand, the one with the mother-of-pearl on the grip. She could see it clearly, and she could see Ollie Stevens lying on the ground in the moonlit clearing. The memory shut out all else. Beth was touching the gun.
"No!" She jerked her hand away as if burned. An alarm went off, blaring in her ears as she stood up. Red lights flashed near the ceiling. She held her hands to her ears.
The other inmate was moving.
Beth glanced at the guard, whose face had gone slack. She thought she was going to die. We're both going to die. I can't do it.
Beth kicked the gun in the guard's direction, but didn't kick it hard enough. The guard stretched her hand out, her fingers nearly on it. Beth rushed over to push it nearer. In her peripheral vision she glimpsed the inmate coming at her with the metal stool. It struck Beth hard on her left side, and she fell on top of the gun and the guard's arm. Beth tried to scramble away. The next blow hit her upper back, and her arms collapsed as pain dazed her, tingling her fingertips. She whimpered, raised up on her elbows and pushed at the gun again, with both hands. The guard grabbed it.
Beth turned away from the guard and struggled to a squatting position, intending to get out of the way so the guard could fire, but in her daze Beth moved too slowly. The stool slammed into her chest, sending a stabbing, choking pain through her that made breath a sudden impossibility.
The stool was on the floor now. "I'm going to kill you!" the inmate screeched as she grabbed Beth and shook her like a rag doll, too intent on expending her rage at Beth's interference to notice the guard now had the gun.
Beth fell, face down. She lay still for a few precious seconds, breathless and dizzy. She lay on the guard's foot, with her face shoved up against a cabinet near the door. Her face hurt as much as the rest of her now. She tasted blood. Something underneath her, some piece of broken furniture she no longer had the wits to identify, jabbed her in the side. Beth felt for the floor, trying to figure out which way was up. Everything spun.
She slid off the guard, staggered to her feet and tried once more to get out of the way. She stumbled a few feet and paused, off balance. She held her head with her right hand and helplessly watched the inmate move toward her again. Beth fell into her, the same instant the guard fired.
Splitting, searing pain tore through Beth's left knee. She screamed with her last vestige of breath, and slumped against the inmate. Then the floor slammed into her face.
Beth tried again to get out of the way of the guard with the gun and the inmate who wanted to kill her. She turned upright, intending to lunge as far away from them both as possible. The inmate kicked her in the chest. Beth doubled over on her hands and one knee, wheezing, and slipped in her own blood. She turned over with her last fragment of strength and watched the metal stool rise again, as though in slow motion.
"Why don't you just die!" the inmate raged.
That and the flashing red lights were the last things Beth saw before she heard a shot, and the inmate fell on top of her.
"I don't remember anything after that, until the hospital." Beth was shaking again.
Matt's eyes were wide. "That's what the nightmare's about? Getting shot?"
"No. The nightmare doesn't even make sense. It's not anything I remember. It's—there's blood everywhere, and I can barely breathe with her on top of me. I can't move. I'm trapped under that dead woman, for what seems an eternity. All I can see is her face. Her eyes are open, but she's dead. I wake up screaming, in pain and out of breath."
Matt sat watching her, for several long seconds. Then he took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Okay. I won't tell Mom. Get into bed. I'll stay until you're asleep."
Beth rose before the sun, donned pink sweats, and went out before anyone else was awake. She paused on the front steps to warm up and stretch her legs. It was cold out, but clear, with a faint gray mist hovering over the surface of the lake.
Peter drove up, jumped out of his truck and came up the steps with a buoyant smile.
"You're out early, even for you," he said. "I didn't think I'd see you. I have a full schedule today, and I'm about to beg Faith for a quick early breakfast."
"She's not here yet, but I can get it for you."
He shook his head. "You're on your way out. I'll stop in town."
"Nonsense. It's early for this anyway, and cold."
She was about to lead him inside when Faith drove up, bustled out of her car, and waved at them as she hurried inside.
"Well. You're better off with her cooking."
"I'd like to spend Saturday with you," Peter said.
She nodded slowly. "I'd like that too."
He smiled and rolled his eyes upward for an instant. "I don't suppose you like to fish?"
She laughed. "You had to ask sooner or later."
"So, it's a date?"
"It's a date."
He moved closer and held both his hands out, reaching for hers. Then he pulled her closer still. He kissed her.
"I feel completely warmed up now," she said when she found her voice.
Beth was helping Faith in the pantry when Gabriel arrived before breakfast. Matt led him in through the back door.
"Come in, young man," Faith said. "Are you too rich and famous yet to enjoy my humble biscuits?"
"I've missed your biscuits, Faith." He hugged her and then Beth.
"Abby, come meet Uncle Gabriel," Matt said. Gabriel grasped Abby's hand and glanced from her to Beth with obvious admiration. Then he sat down to eat breakfast with the family.
Rita entered in a lavender robe and slippers, hair uncombed.
Gabriel tousled her hair. "Rita, my lovely. You look ravishing."
Rita shook her hair into it's original disarray and joined the group at the table. "What brings you here so early?"
Gabriel grinned at Beth and appeared to ignore the question.
After breakfast, Beth, Emily, Abby, Matt and Rita gathered in the family room to visit with Gabriel.
Each time Gabriel threatened to turn the conversation to Beth, she avoided with a question about him, or his work, or his sister Kelly and her family.
After two hours of this, Gabriel stood abruptly. "Beth, will you take a walk with me? I hope you don't mind, Emily. We have some things to discuss in private."
"Can I come too?" Abby was halfway to the door already.
"No, Abby," Emily said. "Stay here with me."
Gabriel led Beth out toward the orchard. Apple trees had begun to blossom, snowy white against new leaves, young grass and deep blue sky. There was no sign this morning that snow had fallen yesterday. The sun shone warmly. Gabriel remained silent until they reached the trees. Then he faced her. "Beth, why are you here?"
"I didn't think you would question it."
"I'm not. I've always believed this was where you belonged. But I need to know what it means to me. I hardly slept last night wondering."
"I came here for multiple reasons. You're one of them. I understand it's been a long time, and you have your own life now. I do too. I'm honestly not sure I'd want there to be anything still between us, romantically that is. It's just that what you and I had was taken away."
"Taken away? Beth, you ended it. You sent back my ring. You wouldn't see me or write to me. I wanted to make things work for us. I would've waited for you."
She sighed deeply. "I know. I did to you what Dan did to me. I decided for us."
"He left you?" He stared at her in disbelief.
"Dan told me that I used to say your name in my sleep."
"Gable, you have no obligation to me. What we had was over a long time ago. You're right, I ended it. Obviously you're not the only reason I'm here. If you don't want anything to do with me, just walk away. No hard feelings. You're one of those ghosts I had to face. I hope we can always be friends." She started to move away, expecting him to follow her back to the Lodge and that comfortably crowded room where Abby waited.
"It's not that simple." He walked in her direction. "Beth, wait. It's barely sunk in that you're here. Let me—"
She thought he was about to walk past her. Instead he stopped in front of her, then took her in his arms and kissed her. It was a long kiss, the culmination of fifteen years of wondering, waiting, missing. She returned it in kind, inhaling the heat of his breath. It broke through barriers to feelings she'd buried long ago. Passion she'd forgotten.
He paused long enough to look into her eyes. His were dark and fixed. Then he kissed her again.
Leigh offered Beth a cold beer when they reached his cabin that afternoon. She accepted it gratefully. Her visit with Gabriel had rattled her. She was able to relax a little after the beer, to sit still long enough for Leigh to feel he made some progress.
Abby sat with two of her cloth dolls, talking softly to them and eating crackers, getting crumbs on Leigh's sofa, while Leigh directed Beth's movements. She began to sympathize with the models who worked for her and Dan, and the absurdities they put them through to get a fashion show or an ad layout just right. Leigh's frustration was evident in his face and his voice.
"Something's happened to you. What's going on?"
"I don't understand what you want."
"The burning inside. Like at lunch the other day, with Vicky."
He wanted to portray her anger? She stared at him, and then she must have hit the thought or emotion he was looking for, because he ordered her to freeze. She was positive she couldn't and didn't. He worked feverishly for another hour or so. She told him not to worry and bade him goodbye, assuring him when he offered the promised ride back to the Lodge that she and Abby both needed the walk. She was restless and stiff from sitting still for so long.
On her way out she glanced in the direction of Peter's cabin. The blue camper was nowhere in sight. She walked, with Abby beside her, looking forward to dinner and to seeing Peter again.
What about Gabriel? The thought came like a breeze blowing from the wrong direction.
It was a long walk for short legs, and Abby was cranky by the time they neared the Lodge. She ran ahead and refused to respond to Beth's calls. Beth ran in the direction Abby had gone, and came upon the bike-shed among the trees and overgrown brush.
She heard Abby murmuring to her dolls.
Beth approached the far end of the shed. The door stood open. It was supposed to be closed and locked. It had been, the last time she'd walked this way. Apprehension replaced mental clarity as she moved closer to that open door and the sound of Abby's voice.
Abby stood inside, at the far end of the shed, talking to three dolls propped against the wall. The third doll wasn't one of Abby's.
"Abby, come out of there." Beth's words came out weak and pleading, her voice rising in pitch. She got no response. "Abby, what did I say?"
Abby turned her head and spoke in a plaintive whine. "Mommy, my dolls like it here. It's our playhouse. And look, they found a new friend. Can we stay for a while? It's not dirty anymore." She turned her back again.
Beth took a deep breath and stepped onto the threshold. Then she saw that Abby was right. The debris was gone. Someone had swept the floor and washed the windows. Sunlight streamed through them.
She had only a second to wonder before a door hinge creaked and she was pushed violently from behind. She fell, and heard the hasp slam home, a padlock slide through the eyehole, then click shut.
She lay sprawled on the floor with the wind knocked out of her.
"Mommy?" Abby said, round-eyed.
"Oh, God, no," Beth gasped, scrambled to her feet and pushed against the door. She pounded on it and called out, fighting back screams, which wasn't hard, considering she hadn't yet regained her breath.
"Open the door, please!" She gasped a few more times, sucking in air that wanted to come out again in screams. She coughed, and pleaded with whoever was out there. She ran to each of the windows, to catch a glimpse of who'd done this. Meanwhile Abby watched her mother's panic escalate, and began to panic herself.
"Mommy? " she said again, and again, her voice rising in a rhythmic, hiccuping chant. "Mommy? Mommy?"
Beth saw the look on her daughter's face, and the walls of her mind crashed in. She'd been so careful to keep this terror from touching Abby. She had to regain a sense of calm.
Abby kept repeating her Mommy mantra.
Beth didn't dare touch her, for fear her panic was contagious and would transfer with the merest contact. Abby would feel her shuddering terror. She had to talk to her, to calm her with words.
"It's a game, Abby. Someone's playing a game with us."
"I don't like this game. I don't want to play."
"Okay. You play with your dolls, and I'll play this game."
She glanced at the strange doll again, and knew why it was here. A flash of anger rose inside her along with her panic.
Abby watched her, and Beth knew she wasn't fooling her. Abby was too smart. Then Abby turned to the dolls again, and sat on the floor facing them.
Beth breathed a sigh and looked around. Two windows faced north and south, each about two by two-and-a-half feet in size, with four panes each. They were set into the two longer walls of the shed, with a solid wall on the end where Abby sat, and the door on the other.
The south window had opened at one time. They'd used it to collect money for the rental of the bicycles kept here. Now the top half of the window was boarded over. It was a sash window, but it was nailed shut.
Three nights ago, the window in her bathroom had been nailed shut, and Matt had removed the nails—with what? Beth cast around. The shed was perfectly clean, and empty except for that doll Abby had found. Some insane person had actually gone to the trouble to wash these useless freaking windows!
Again, Beth had to fight back her screams. Stay calm, stay calm. She glanced at Abby, who sat facing her dolls, silent. What was she thinking? That Mommy, who screamed like a banshee in the middle of the night, had finally lost it? Beth felt crazy, and she wanted to hurt the person who'd locked Abby in here with her.
She touched the south window. The glass shuddered ever so little, loose in its frame. The mullions were wood, dried and cracked with age. She glanced at Abby again. If she could break the window and somehow get all the glass out without cutting herself in the process, maybe they could climb out.
Break it with what? She glanced at her hands, glimpsed the scars on her wrists, and almost wretched. She looked down at her shoes. Instead of sturdy boots or even something as substantial as running shoes, today she wore soft canvas slip-ons. She wore no jacket, because the sun was so warm today, only a pullover sweater. Abby wore the same. No shirt underneath, just a sweater, stirrup pants, socks and canvas shoes. She always wanted to match what Beth wore.
They could be trapped in here for hours. Beth recalled how Faith was always hot and kept the kitchen windows open while she worked. She'd have them open today, and she might hear Beth's screams, if only Beth could get one of these windows open.
"Stop it, you can't do this," she whispered. Then she glanced at Abby, who'd turned around to watch Beth, her expression wary. Beth tried to smile at her.
Abby stood up and faced her with stubborn resolve. "Mommy, let's go back to Grandma's."
"Not yet. Play with your dolls. I have to think." Her own voice sounded distant. Panic was a thread away from overwhelming her. She couldn't let Abby see her fall apart utterly. But she had to get out of here, soon, or Abby would see. She would see something a four-year-old shouldn't. She would see her mother throw a screaming, raving fit.
Beth played it all out in her mind several times before she acted, wanting to do it as safely as she could. But her thinking was muddled. She didn't feel rational.
She told Abby to sit facing the far corner, making it a game. Beth stripped off her own sweater and put it over Abby's head to protect her from flying glass. Then she closed her eyes and shielded them with her left hand while she attacked the window savagely with her right. The brittle old glass wasn't all that loose after all. Finally it cracked, and then shattered. The sound echoed clear across the lake. Then Beth yelled, hoping that someone would hear.
She called as loudly as she could until she was out of breath and her throat felt raw. Then she talked to Abby and soothed her quietly for a few minutes, telling her it was okay, Mommy was just trying to get someone to hear and let them out, because the door was stuck.
She picked up her sweater and held it in her right hand while she picked bits of clinging glass off her skin and her bra with her left. Abby watched her, and began to cry. Beth followed her gaze, saw the blood that dripped from the cuts on the back and side of her right hand. It was all over her sweater, on Abby's clothes, and on the floor. She stared at her hand, wondering why it didn't hurt.
She shook her sweater out and put it on. It was too late now to worry about bloodstains, and she was shivering.
She returned to the window, avoiding standing too near it because of the jagged glass that still clung to the edges and fell in pieces from time to time onto the sill and the floor. She breathed the clear, cool outside air in deep draughts, watching the ripples on the lake. She could hear the breeze blowing softly in the trees, but she couldn't get out without injuring herself further and frightening Abby more in the process.
She shouted again, and waited.
"Hello?" a distant male voice called.
Beth yelled incoherently, between sobs. The next time he called she recognized the voice.
"Matt, it's Beth! In the bike-shed. Abby's with me. We can't get out."
A moment later the lock rattled, then she heard the jingle of keys.
"It's a different lock, Beth," Matt said. "I have to get the bolt cutters." He came to the window and peered in. "Is she cut?" he demanded.
"No. It's my hand. I didn't realize I was bleeding when I touched her. She's okay, just please hurry." She shivered, teeth chattering.
"Okay. Calm down, I'll get you out." He disappeared from view, and Beth heard his footsteps withdraw at a run. She sat on the floor beside Abby to wait, trying not to think about anything, afraid she'd sob uncontrollably if she spoke. She held Abby in the curve of her left arm and rested her bleeding right hand on her knee.
Abby stopped crying and leaned into Beth's arm. She didn't speak or move. Beth was too consumed with anxiety to do anything for Abby but hold her.
Long minutes later, Abby leaned over and looked at Beth's cut hand. "Does it hurt?" She looked up at Beth. Her eyes were wide and dark.
"Only a little. Peter will fix it." Beth started shaking again, and cursed herself silently for it.
"Look, Mommy. Rosemary got hurt too." Abby held up one of her two dolls. It had a smear of blood on its clothing. She hugged the doll close, and snuggled closer to her mother. Beth kissed the top of Abby's head, letting her lips linger on her fine hair.
They heard footsteps outside, then Matt's voice, comfortingly near, "It's me, Beth. I'll have you out in a minute. You okay in there, Abby?"
"Yes," Abby called. She smiled up at Beth. "Uncle Matt is my best uncle."
Minutes later Matt pried the lock off and the door swung wide.
Beth stayed where she was, afraid she'd be unable to stop running once she moved. She wanted to get Abby out of here first. Matt had the same idea. He came in and sent Abby out to Rita. Then he gave Beth a hand up and led her out. Her knees felt like rubber. She glanced at Abby, who waited for her beside Rita.
"Please get her away from me, so I can go to pieces," Beth whispered to Matt. She was sweating again and felt lightheaded.
"Abby, you and Aunt Rita run ahead and ask Faith if Peter's on his way yet." When Rita hesitated, he added, "Now." They hurried off through the trees.
His voice sounded as if it came from far away, and Beth stumbled as she took a step closer. Her vision was spotty and swimming. She blinked and shook her head, attempting to clear away the dizziness. She clutched at Matt's arm.
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Copyright (c) 2001 Barbara W. Klaser. All rights reserved