Monday, April 14, 2008

Chapter Teaser RUNNING BLIND

This weeks chapter Teaser

Running Blind

Chapter One
Darkness spread across the highway. Oncoming headlights blinked on, signaling impending nightfall. Jess rubbed her raw, tired eyes and lowered her window to allow the cool air to flow across her face. God, she was tired. The last sign she’d read indicated she was nearing Buffalo, or was that an hour ago?

Time was slipping by so fast she couldn’t keep track. It didn’t matter where she was really, just that she was on the move. Forty-eight hours had passed since she left Sioux City and more since she’d slept. Her body was weary and her brain sluggish. Simple tasks such as turning on her headlights had become monumental.

She reached into the passenger seat and rummaged through the empty candy bar wrappers, potato chip and cookie bags, feeling for something left to give her a sugar boost. To her dismay, nothing edible remained. As a cruel reminder of how long it had been since she ate something filling and nutritious, her stomach grumbled and cramped. She stopped only when she needed gas. To kill two birds with one stone, she grabbed whatever junk food the small stores carried and ate while she drove.

The bleak gray concrete stretching out in front of her wavered, dimmed and then returned to normal. She wasn’t foolish. She knew it wasn’t safe to drive for two days straight without sleep or proper meals. But in the grand scheme of things she had no choice but to keep moving around.

A blue sign touted a small diner at the next exit, along with a motel. Jess’ stomach growled again. She decided it was time to fill her belly and rest her brain. A few hours of sleep, a hot shower and she would be good to go and back on the road early in the morning. That was if she could sleep through the night without horrible images chasing her.

“Jess, run!”

The demanding and frightened voice echoed inside her head. Sweat beaded on her forehead while her heart hammered. She knew that voice, would never forget it. The voice saved her life. Officer Storm, the twenty-eight-year old-policewoman assigned to protect and keep her alive. Her friend.

“We’ll keep you safe Jessica, I promise. We’ll put you somewhere he’ll never find you.”

Jess fought back a sob. Tears stung her eyes and began streaming down her cheeks. The car barreled down the road with Jessica’s hands clamped tight around the steering wheel, missing the exit that led her to food and rest.

“Get a hold of yourself.” Jess rubbed the tears from her eyes. “You can’t help them now. You have to look out for yourself.”

Miles passed. “Where the hell is that exit? I was sure it was only a mile up the road.” Desperation was beginning to set in, a side effect of sleep deprivation and hunger. When she saw an exit ramp ahead, she breathed a sigh of relief and flipped on her turn signal.

A blood-curling scream ripped through her head. Jess jumped and screamed aloud as her car veered off the highway and onto the ramp. Blood roared through her ears, deafening her. She slammed on the brake at the bottom of the ramp before pulling out in front of an oncoming car.

Nerves fried, she rested her forehead on the steering wheel and waged a war with herself. She wanted to cry—needed to cry—for her three friends but refused to fall apart now. There would be plenty of time for that once she checked into a motel room.

Steeling herself, she lifted her head and scrubbed her damp face. Her gaze darted up and down the road in front of her. There were no signs indicating which way to civilization. Another car whizzed by so she decided to follow the traffic. Her hands shook as she turned the steering wheel right and eased off the brake.
Darkness fell fast and hard. All she could see was what her headlights illuminated. Trees. There was nothing but trees and road. No houses, no diners and no warm cozy motel. Her body leaned toward the steering wheel and tensed. Maybe she had taken the wrong turn. After thirty minutes of driving, she saw a dirt road disappearing into the thick trees on her left.

Jess steered her small import into the driveway, intending to turn around and head back the other way. As she stared out the windshield, Officer Storm’s young face shimmered in the glass.


Shivers ran down Jess’ spine.

Jessica he can find you.

The beautiful, flawless face framed by wavy black hair morphed into a grotesque, bloody mass. A bullet hole oozed thick red blood from her forehead.
Jess closed her eyes and willed the vision away. When she opened them again, there was nothing but darkness. Pain seized her stomach as it cramped and growled like a dying animal.

The car crept down the dirt road slowly. Five minutes passed as Jess stared blankly ahead, steering the car like a robot while her body shook from hunger. Why was this happening? Wasn’t there some sort of karma law that kept this kind of evil from those that did good?

Another vision wavered through Jessica’s mind. The last body she and Detective Max Dawson stood over.

He’s getting more brutal, Jess. We need to end this now.

She saw herself squat next to the body. She shivered while she relived the horrors the woman suffered. When she stood, she heard herself speak to Max.

He’s not getting the thrill he used to. It’s taking more violence to get him off.
Don’t let him get you, darlin’.

Jess startled, another face appeared in the windshield. She recognized it immediately. Officer Davis, the kind, soft-spoken man who would sit in the safe house and tell her his plans for retirement. He’d been on the force for thirty years and was eager to travel the country with his wife.

His gentle features twisted into half a face with bone and flesh hanging to his shoulder. Bits of gray matter dangled where his eye had once been. Run, the ruined half of his mouth said.

Jess slammed her eyelids closed and screamed. “No!” As before, when she opened them the image was gone.

Her head jolted back when she saw herself sitting in Max’s office, pale and frightened. Max held a piece of paper in his hand and read aloud.

My beautiful Jessica. What fun we’ll have together. I can’t wait to show you what plans I have for your petite body. You will be my final masterpiece before I move on to new hunting ground. Keep your pale, freckled skin supple for me, will you dear?
“That damn reporter will answer for this,” Max bellowed. “If it weren’t for him this bastard would never have found you.”

Jess remembered the day the newspaper article came out. Her blood had run cold as she’d read. There, in black and white for every sicko to see, were the facts. The headline read in bold black letters, “Psychic helping track down Sioux City killer”, followed by her full name.

I won’t get to see my baby.

Jess squinted through her tears. Officer Fenton stared back at her with his own tears falling down his cheeks. The thirty-three-year-old man was a new father. She remembered him bragging about the chubby little bald bundle while they played cards in the small, dingy kitchen and sipped coffee.

“I’m so sorry,” she sobbed. Because of her, the child would grow up without a father. Kill him, Jess, for me. His face distorted and when it cleared, an axe was embedded in the middle of his forehead.

Jess’ stomach muscles clenched hard. Her head spun as if she were on a roller coaster looping around. “Make it stop,” she sobbed.

Her foot pressed hard against the accelerator, propelling the car down the dirt road. Gravel and dust kicked up behind the iron machine, rocks pelted the trunk as it fell back to earth.

“Why is this happening?” Fear and anger consumed her body. Her muscles tensed into tight knots. Bile rose into her throat, gagging her.
Her foot slipped off the accelerator, slowing the car. All three faces of her friends swam in the windshield. Their voices rambled and mixed inside her head, demanding justice for their brutal murders. Their pleas stabbed at her heart like the knife the killer used to inflict torture.

The sound of a car horn blaring jerked Jess’ attention back to the road. She looked ahead into bright headlights that were bearing down on her. She snatched the wheel hard to the right. Her car hopped the bank and took a nosedive down a steep hill. Tree branches scraped and groaned against the car. Thinking she was standing on the brake, she pressed her foot to the floor. To her horror, the car sped through thick brush, plowing over shrubs that grew in the way.

Her body bounced in the seat, kept from flying around the inside of the car by her seatbelt. The wheel yanked hard out of her hands, wrenching pain shot through her fingers and wrists. Hard loud thumps echoed inside the car over the racing motor.

Instinct demanded she scream, but when she opened her mouth, nothing came out but a soft gasp. She saw the thick, gray tree trunk before the front of her car smashed into it. Jess’ head snapped forward and smacked into the steering wheel on impact.

The revving engine gave one last cough before shutting down in a cloud of steam. The soft hissing sound from the radiator filled the air. Jess’ head rested against the wheel. Warm, sticky blood trickled down her face and neck. For an instant, she hoped this would be the end of her nightmare. No more running, no more fear. Nothing but peace.

Like the end of an old black and white cartoon, her vision narrowed and funneled until there was nothing left but a pinhead speck of light. Just before all went black, a bright flash of light filled her sight.
This is it, she thought, it’s all over. She spiraled into a welcome darkness.

* * * * *

Reed yawned as he drove down the long gravel and dirt road. He smiled when he saw a doe peek out of the tree line and take a step out. This is what he loved about living out of town. He slowed the truck to make sure he wouldn’t hit her if she darted out in front of him. Chicken seemed to be a game embedded in their DNA. When he passed her safely, he glanced in his rear view mirror. The big, beautiful creature strutted out into the road, followed by a smaller version speckled with white dots.

He watched until both animals disappeared into the thick trees on the other side. “Safe journey, mama,” he whispered.

Reed focused his attention back in front of him and eased around the upcoming turn. As the truck exited, a pair of headlights came straight for him.

“What the…” He slammed his hand on the horn and jammed his foot on the brake.

The truck slid to a stop. Reed watched through a cloud of dust as the headlights from the other car veered off to the left and disappeared down over the bank. He sat stunned for a few moments as his mind scrambled to catch up with the events that just taken place. His sluggish brain came to an abrupt halt as realization finally hit home.

"Shit.” Reed bailed from his truck and ran to the side of the road in time to see the car collide with a large oak tree.

Fear and panic rocketed through him from his toes to his head. The impact was so hard it echoed through the woods. Reed rushed back to his truck and grabbed a flashlight from his glove box. His legs moved with a mind of their own, pumping like pistons, thrusting him through the thick brush and over stumps of seedlings sheared off by the car. Low hanging branches smacked at his face and arms, stinging his flesh.

Damn, this place was supposed to be his solitude, his safe haven away from the people in town. He wasn’t a people person, never had been, and only a few people knew his cabin in the deepest recess of these woods existed. Why was this person here and for what reason?

As he got closer, he could see steam billowing from the front of the car, hissing like a deadly snake. The beam of his flashlight bounced across the driver’s window, giving him a glimpse of the face behind the wheel.

Just a kid, he thought, a damn kid.

He dropped to his knees and shone the light into the face of a young female. Thick, dark red blood ran from a gash in her forehead. He positioned his index finger under her nose to feel for breath. Relief rushed through him when he felt the slight warm breeze on his skin.

“Hey, can you hear me?” His answer was a faint moan. “Can you open your eyes?”

He saw her eyelashes flutter then still. “Come on, you can do it. Open your eyes.” Reed fought the urge to reach out and shake her back to consciousness. There was no telling how many injuries this waif of a girl had sustained in the impact.

Her lids made one last attempt to open, then stilled again. This wasn’t good. She probably had a severe concussion and needed professional help. “I need to call an ambulance. I’ll be right back.”

Before he could rise from his knees, her eyes flew open. He startled, losing his breath. Her mouth moved slightly.

“What?” he leaned closer inside the car.

“No help.” Her voice was a mere whisper.

She’s so out of it. She doesn’t know what’s happened, he thought. “You’ve been in a bad car accident and you’re hurt real bad. You need help.”

Reed watched her gaze settle and focus on his face. Her brilliant blue eyes looked into his soul, giving him an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of his stomach. When she pulled her head away from the steering wheel, more blood gushed forward.


“No? Are you crazy? You’re bleeding all over the place. You need help.” He saw her hands start feeling around the door and then yank at the handle. Back off, Baker, he told himself, she’s confused.

“He can’t find me.”

“He’ll find you once we get you to a hospital. Don’t worry.” Instead of calming her, his words seemed to make her frantic. Her eyes went from half lidded and dreamy to wide open. She gave up on the door handle and tried to climb out the window, her seat belt holding her in place.

Reed rubbed his jaw and watched her clamber around until she realized what held her in place. After releasing the seat belt, she lifted her body and angled it through the window.

“What the hell are you doing?” He reached inside and shoved her back in the seat.

“I have to leave, can’t let him find me.” She fought his hands, slapping and pushing them away.

“You don’t want to be found?” She was running away from someone, not to them. “It can’t be that bad. Besides, the police will keep you safe.” To his horror, she became more crazed as she scratched and clawed at the roof, trying to tear her way out.

“They can’t. They can’t help. They already tried,” she whimpered. Her legs kicked and thumped against the inside of the car, trying to kick her way out now. “Dead, they’re all dead.”

Reed could feel all her emotions washing over him like an ocean wave. Her frenzied actions made his heart race as if he were the one running for his life. If he didn’t stop her she’d harm herself further and if he didn’t get hold of himself he wasn’t going to be able to help her.

“Don’t let him find me.”

Her words were desperate pleas, accented by her hysterical movements to free herself from him and the car. Reed’s mind raced. He needed to calm her down and get her help. But how? Whomever she was running from had her scared to death.

Suddenly she stilled, looking at him with imploring eyes. “Please, I have to keep moving,” she panted.

Reed froze, mesmerized by the blue topaz of her eyes. His gut clenched and then released. It was more than the color of her eyes. It was something deep within them that convinced him he needed to believe and trust her. Something that filled a deep empty space inside and made him feel whole for the first time in his life.
He shook off the unwelcome sensation. “I must be out of my mind,” he muttered.
Trusting a woman he’d never seen before five minutes ago. “Okay, I won’t call an ambulance.”

She relaxed back in the seat and closed her eyes. “Thank you.”

“What the hell am I supposed to do with you?” She was bleeding like a stuck pig, more than likely had a concussion and was on the run from someone. His head screamed to take her to the authorities but something inside his chest refused to allow it.

She weakly opened her eyes. “Take me to a hotel.”

Reed grunted and ran his bloodstained hands through his hair. He couldn’t just drop her off at a hotel and wave goodbye. What if she went into a coma, or worse, died? There was only one option. He would take her back to the cabin.

“I can’t believe I’m doing this.” he stood and looked over the mangled car door and then pulled on it. It was no surprise when it didn’t budge. The only other way to get her out was to pull her through the window.

“Okay, listen, the only way to get you out is to pull you through the window. If I hurt you, let me know and we’ll stop.” She nodded her head and slid toward the door.

He reached inside, hooked his hands under her arms and pulled. It was like pulling a heavy quilt. There was weight, but not much. She was half way out when a painful moan rolled from her mouth.

“I’m sorry,” Reed stopped moving her and stood perfectly still. “Where does it hurt?”

“I’m okay. My head is just pounding,” she reassured him. “Don’t stop, keep going.”

“This is asinine,” he snapped. “You should be in an ambulance. I could be doing more damage.”

“It’s just my head. I don’t really hurt anywhere else. Please, keep going.”

He knew she was lying, he could hear the pain in her voice. No one took a hit like that and walked away without some kind of pain or serious injury. He decided he would finish the job, put her in the truck and drive her to the hospital himself. She would have proper care and he could continue home and go on with his life.

“All right, one last pull and you’ll be out. I’ll be as gentle as I can be.” The words no sooner left his mouth than he gave a quick tug. In one smooth motion, he dropped his left hand from under her arm, cradled her back in his right and scooped her legs up with his left.

He waited for sounds of her misery and braced himself with his eyes closed. When none came, he opened his eyes and looked down into the bloody face staring at him with bright eyes. A small, brief smile worked its way across her mouth and then faded.

“You okay?”


He jostled her slightly to get a better grip and started trekking up the bank toward his truck. He couldn’t believe how light she was. He had carried sacks of shelled corn heavier than she was. Each step he took was slow and deliberate, careful not to stumble over brush and fall on top of her.

Half way up the embankment, she rested her head on his chest and snuggled closer to his body. Her right hand reached up and grasped his shirt, holding on for dear life. Reed felt waves of warmth pass through his body and involuntarily he pulled her closer to him. For the first time in his life, he felt the need to protect someone—a need he’d never experienced before.

When he stepped onto the road, he took long strides toward his truck and opened the passenger door. As gently as possible, he settled her on the seat. He took a quick glance at her forehead and breathed a sigh of relief. It had finally stopped bleeding. Not wanting her to flop over, he leaned across her body and pulled the seat belt across. Her warm breath flowed across his ear, sending shivers of electricity down his spine.

Reed hesitated briefly and then continued latching her in. Before he could pull his hand away, she reached out and grasped it.

“Thank you.”

He met her eyes. “No thanks needed.” He tried to keep his voice stern and curt but it came out soft and gentle.

“Yes, it is. You’ve saved my life in more ways than one.”

“Are you really in danger?”

She didn’t hesitate. “Yes.”

Reed held her gaze for a few seconds and then looked away. “I’ll be right back.” He slammed the truck door and stormed off behind the truck.

“Fuck.” He snarled, kicking at the gravel with his foot. There went his plan to take her to the hospital himself. What was he supposed to do now? He paced back and forth behind the truck as he ran his fingers through his hair.

He needed time to think. If she was in real danger then he shouldn’t leave anything behind in her car. He gave one last kick at the rocks on the road and then made his way back down the bank to her car.

He leaned in and saw a pile of garbage on the passenger side floor. He grabbed a handful of bags and paper, looked at it and then tossed it aside. He fished around more until he found her purse, pulled it out of the car and dropped it on the ground. Next, he opened the glove compartment, pulled out all the contents and crammed them into her small purse. Then he rummaged around in the back seat but found nothing of importance.

“She must have her suitcase in the trunk.” He slid the car key from the ignition and moved to the back of the car. Surprisingly, the lid popped open without any trouble. One small, bright blue duffle bag sat in the center of the small trunk. He removed it and then squatted down in front of the license plate.

Luckily, two wing nuts were the only things holding it on. He made quick work of removing it and then slid it behind his back and into the waistline of his jeans. Once he had her purse and bag in hand he made his way back up to the road.

He dropped the two bags between him and his mystery girl, yanked the license plate from his pants and tossed it on the floor and started the truck. He glanced at her sleeping form before turning the vehicle around to head back to the cabin. She seemed to be sleeping. At least he hoped she was sleeping. She could be in a coma for all he knew.

“Hey, you still with me?” When her eyes fluttered and she gave a little groan, he took it as a good sign. “I’ll drive slowly so you won’t get jostled around. We’ll be at my place in few minutes.”

“You don’t need to do that. Just take me to a hotel.”

God, she sounded weak. “I should just drop you off at the hospital doors and honk the horn so someone finds you.”

His sarcasm was lost on her. Her hands began flailing at the door handle. When it popped open, he leaned across her and pulled it shut.

“What the hell are you doing now?” he barked in irritation.

“I can’t go to a hospital.” She panted as she shoved his hands away. “He’ll find me.”

“Calm down.” He grabbed her wrists to restrain her. “I won’t take you. Just calm down.”

“Promise me.”

Damn it, she was doing it again, looking at him with those desperate, soul-searching eyes. His stomach fluttered like it did when he was an adolescent and a pretty girl smiled at him. Reed silently cursed himself for letting her get to him.

He looked away and mumbled. “I promise.”

“Look at me and say it,” she demanded.

God help him, he tried not to look at her but he couldn’t stop. She was captivating. He looked her straight in the eyes. “I promise.”

She relaxed and reached out her hand, resting it on his thigh. “Thank you.”
It was just a brief touch, lasting only a second or two, but it sent shock waves through his body. What the hell’s wrong with you? She’s just a kid. He dropped the truck into drive and headed back to the cabin.

His mystery girl laid her head back on the seat and closed her eyes. He put a death grip on the steering wheel and clenched his jaw. This felt like he was in a bad B-movie and there was no way out.

He reached over and shoved his hand into her purse, searching for her wallet. When he felt something small and rectangular, he pulled it out and flicked on the cab light. With his thumb, he flipped the snap and shook the wallet open. There in the center was her driver’s license.

He squinted in the dim light at the picture. Staring back at him was a cleaner version of the woman next to him. Her hair was a deep red, cropped short to her head. Her remarkable eyes were the same, but the smile was as sexy as sin. Her nose was the same, short and pointed. The only thing he hadn’t seen yet were the freckles across the bridge of her nose.

Reed forced his gaze away from the picture and read her vital statistics. Jessica Crist, Sioux City, Iowa. Five foot tall and, wait, this couldn’t be right. He shoved the wallet up under the light for a better look. Thirty years old? No way was she thirty years old. He looked at the picture once more and then over at her.
Possible, maybe. Suddenly he didn’t feel like such a dirt bag for reacting to her the way he was. She was a grown woman, not some teen running away from home. That helped the situation. At least he couldn’t be arrested for harboring a minor.

Slightly relieved, he dropped the wallet back in her purse. The B-movie just got a little better. There was hope of escaping it after all.

Interested in reading more? Click here.
Running Blind from Cerridwen Press
Enjoy other great stories from Cerridwen Press

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Chapter Teaser - Free Read

I'm going to try something new. To help people decide if they would like to read my books, I'm going to post the first chapter of each book. After the chapter I'll have the buy link, ya know, in case you want to take a chance and read the entire story. Please keep in mind these are ebooks. Downloads. I have three books released at this time, so I'll post one chapter a week for each book. I hope you enjoy your free read!

Black Smoke

Chapter One

Samantha Wells lay buried in the mud, a small tube protruding from her lips just barely reaching the surface of her makeshift grave. This small piece of plastic was her only way of drawing air into her lungs. Her entire body was covered with earth, dead leaves and twigs. No one would know she was there, even if they walked over her. She sucked the air through her tube in slow, long breaths. It had taken her years to perfect this method without jumping from the ground and hyperventilating, but it was worth it. She could hide for hours, even days if necessary. The small collapsible shovel she carried served her well for digging into the soft earth. With experienced movements, she dug a hole wide and deep enough for her to slip into. Starting at her feet she carefully covered herself with fresh earth until she couldn’t be seen.

Today she only needed to hide for the next two hours until darkness fell. Her quarry lay just five hundred feet away from her, inside a small cabin. It would only take her seven minutes to cross the distance, enter the cabin, incapacitate the captors and leave with the target.

Seven minutes. She’d run the scenario over and over in her mind, carefully planning every step she would take. The layout of the cabin was ingrained in her brain. All she had to do was close her eyes and she could see it.

Young Peter had taken a great risk showing her around the cabin when he was sure the captors were out. Peter was also the one that gave her the proof she needed that her target was in the possession of this foul man. The woman’s wallet had been tossed into a dumpster where the boy was looking for cans to recycle.

Sam lived for this kind of work. It was what kept her sane, knowing she was doing something worthwhile. Unfortunately, she had to deal with the scum of the earth, like these evil excuses for men who held this young woman captive.
Sam was sure she knew what he had planned for the young woman, but dwelling on that wouldn’t help the situation. She needed to keep her mind wrapped around the plan. Once she had the woman free, she would call the police and let them deal with him. It wasn’t her job to act as judge and jury. She was just the black smoke that swirled into a building and freed all those who needed to be free. Black Smoke. That’s what she’d been named by the others in her profession. It was a name she bore proudly.

No one knew who Black Smoke was. She was extremely careful not to let anyone know her real name, or even that she was a female. Her Uncle Walt dealt with those that contracted for her services. He simply filled her in on what needed to be done. So far it had worked out well for both of them. Not only did she do retrievals for the private sector, she also worked for the government—but only on those rare occasions when it needed to be kept quiet.

Sam pressed deeper into her grave when she heard a car drive up to the cabin. Even with her eyes closed, she could picture in her mind what was taking place. The sound of two car doors slamming told her that her hunch was right. There were two of them, two men to torture this poor woman. The contents of the cabin clearly had shown two people.

The muffled cries of a female in distress caused the hairs on her arms to prickle, even under the thick layer of dirt that covered her. Her heartbeat began to quicken. Had she been wrong to wait until nightfall? Would it be too late? Would this poor woman be brutalized before she moved? Sweat seeped into the rich, dark soil that surrounded her.

You must be patient.

Sam’s heartbeat began to slow. That soft whisper she’d relied on her entire life was never wrong. The woman cried out again, this time a painful, heart-wrenching scream. Sam nearly bolted from her self-made grave. Every muscle in her body tensed, ready to do battle.

Not yet, she will not be seriously harmed before nightfall.

Again, the whisper inside her head calmed her. As a child the soothing voice had saved her life and as she grew older it had helped her work through the turmoil of adolescence. When she began her career, she relied on it to keep her safe. It had never let her down before. It wouldn’t let her down this time. By her calculations, she had ninety minutes before all hell would break loose. Concentrating on her breathing and relaxing her muscles, Sam said a quick prayer to her spirit guide to wake her when the time came.

As she sank within herself, she could only hear the sound of her own breathing. All other sounds were pushed away. Sam concentrated on the sound of the air being sucked through, then pushed out of the small tube. As it happened over and over again it became a hypnotic rhythm that soon had her resting comfortably beneath the earth.

A peaceful scene unfolded in her mind’s eye. A cozy, whimsical room with colorful fairies decorating the walls filled her head. A wind chime near an open window tinkled in the light breeze of the evening. It too was adorned with fairies. A large doll’s house stood in the corner, fairy dolls placed in each room. As Sam’s eyes searched the room, she saw a beautiful bed with a frilly pink comforter. Large overstuffed pillows covered the bed. Nestled amongst the pillows was a big stuffed dog.

A sense of warmth and happiness washed through Sam’s body. She recognized this place, that dog, the tinkling sounds of the wind chime. It was all so familiar and comforting.

Sam’s peaceful feeling was shattered by the sound of wood splintering and heavy footsteps coming upstairs. Her heart began to race as she heard shouting from across the hall. Was that her father’s voice she heard pleading?

The beautiful serenity of the room became a violent swirl of color as the shouting became more intense, more violent. She could hear flesh being slapped and a woman’s voice cried out in pain. The room began to spin. Sam’s stomach clenched. That was her mother. Her mother was screaming. Sam tried to move toward the door, but with every step she took, the spinning became worse. Her stomach began to heave with nausea, but she swallowed hard to fight it back. This was no time to be sick. She needed to help her parents. Dear God, what was happening to them? She could still hear shouting, loud thuds, more shouting. She stepped carefully toward the door, then fell with a hard crash. Unwilling to be defeated, she started crawling, but for every inch she gained, the door seemed to move away three inches.

Sam opened her mouth to call out, but she became mute. No matter how hard she tried to call to her parents to tell them she was coming nothing but air came from her throat. Her mother’s screams became fierce. She could hear her father pleading for the intruders to stop, begging them to take him and leave her alone, but the screaming continued. Then suddenly, her door burst open.

Samantha, you must wake. It is time. Wake child.

Sam gasped through her small tube, sucking dirt down into her throat. Her heart was racing, pounding so loudly in her ears that it deafened her. Her arms and legs ached from being clenched and still for so long. She felt heaviness grow in her chest, a feeling she hadn’t felt in eighteen years.

She needs you. It is time.

Sam bolted from her shallow grave as she heard the woman inside the cabin scream—a scream much like the one in her dream. Her upper body stiffened as she pushed against the weight of the earth and sat up. She spit the small tube from her mouth and kicked her legs, dislodging them from the earth. Discipline and focus made her push past the stiffness in her limbs and jump to her feet. Adrenaline poured through her veins as she inched her way toward the cabin. Her vision became a tunnel. She saw nothing except the small cabin that held her target. Red began to blur the edges of her vision. Pure anger and hatred was driving her now.

As she approached the small window that she had left cracked open on her earlier visit with Peter, another scream ripped through the night air. Sam sucked air between her teeth as she peeked in the window. Anger engulfed her as she watched one of the men rip the woman’s blouse open. Sam reached down into her boot and pulled out a small pistol. She placed the barrel in the gap between the window and the wall and fired.

A loud curse let her know she had struck the intended victim. She watched as he dropped to the floor. The second man looked down at him, his sickening smile turning to a look of confusion and fear. Sam took aim again and fired. The drunken man jerked as the dart skimmed by his thigh.

“What the hell!” he slurred as he staggered about the room.

Sam cursed herself for missing. She never missed. This meant she’d have to take him out with her hands. Oh well, she thought, then jumped straight into the air and grabbed the tree limb that hung out above the window. As the man continued to stumble around the room, Sam crashed through the window and landed in a crouched position. Her eyes made a quick survey of the room. The first man was already out cold on the floor. The target was tied with her hands above her to a beam.

Baring her teeth like a hungry wolf, Sam sprang toward her prey. With one quick strike of her foot the man’s head spun to the side and blood spewed from his mouth. He dropped to the floor. Sam pulled her pistol out again and shot a dart into the back of his neck. She stood staring at him, trying desperately to rein in the pure hatred and anger she felt toward this man.

The soft whimper from the corner of the room pulled her from the dark recesses in her mind.

As she turned her head slowly, she saw the young woman sobbing quietly. The sight of the woman ripped at Sam’s heart. There were red handprints on her face, her arms were bruised and blood trickled down her stomach. Sam slid her pistol back into her boot and walked slowly toward her.

“Don’t be afraid. I’m here to get you out,” she said softly.

The woman’s eyes met Sam’s. Tears spilled down over her cheeks. Her body shook from her sobbing. Then her face took on a look of new fear. “There’s another one.” She said breathlessly. “There’s another one. He’s not here yet.”

Sam pulled a knife from her utility belt and cut the woman loose from the beam. “It’s okay, calm down. It’s okay.”

“No, you don’t understand,” she said with a shaky voice. “Another man.”

Sam stilled, “What do you mean, another man?”

“There are three. He’s not here yet. We have to go. Now!” the woman said as she headed toward the door.

“Wait, we need to go through the window. If there’s another one coming, we don’t want to go out the front door.” Sam pulled the woman toward the window and shoved her through. As she was about to climb through herself she heard a car stop out front of the house.

“Run into the woods, find a place to hide and I’ll find you,” she whispered to the woman.

Without needing to be told twice the woman took off into the darkness. Sam looked around the room and found a place to hide. She wouldn’t leave here until all those responsible were taken down.

Just as Sam crouched behind the small island bench in the kitchen the door swung open. Heavy footsteps crossed the floor. Sam held her breath as she closed her eyes and pictured what the man was doing at that precise moment.

She could see him looking at the two men lying on the floor, then his eyes moved to the spot where the woman had been tied. She could see the anger in his face. She could feel the turmoil swelling in his guts. His plans had been sabotaged, his night of so-called fun spoiled. Sam stood slowly as she raised her pistol taking deadly aim. Before she could pull the trigger the man spun to face her.

Her finger pulled the trigger. She watched as the dart shot toward him. With amazing speed he moved just enough to let the dart shoot by him. Using the same speed he hurled himself toward Sam. Years of reflexes took over. Sam ducked behind the island bench again then scooted to where he had been standing. He was standing on top of the counter looking over it. Stepping quietly forward and reaching out with her right hand she pulled his foot out from under him causing him to land on his head on the opposite side of the island.

A bitter curse made her smile. He was hurt and this gave her satisfaction. She pulled her canister of mace from her utility belt and leaned over the counter. Once she had him disoriented she could tranquilize him as well.

“Who the hell are you?” the man grumbled.

“Your worst nightmare,” she snarled at him as she unloaded her mace in his face.

He never screamed like most do when the burn becomes too painful, he just lay very still.

Sam pointed her pistol at him to fire its final dart and once again, with amazing reflexes the man jumped up, his shoulder knocking the pistol from her hands. Without a thought Sam countered with a jab to his face. Blood rolled from his lip and down his chin. Before she realized what had happened he had grabbed her wrists wrapping them in a vice-like grip. He kicked her feet out from underneath her, knocking them both to the floor with a bone-jarring thud.

His weight had her pinned to the floor, unable to move. Sam bucked and kicked trying to throw him off balance to get her hands free. But he was a skilled fighter. He knew how to subdue a person. Somehow he had managed to remove the black mask she always wore during a mission.

“Well, well. Look what I have here.” He laughed, blood spraying all over her face. “Just a little girl.”

Sam continued to kick, trying desperately to get her knee between his legs. His hold on her wrists was much too strong. Never before had she encountered a man she couldn’t outmaneuver, or outsmart.

Stay still Samantha. Stay still.

Sam instinctively obeyed the whisper in her head. Relaxing all her muscles she became a rag doll. It only took a few moments for his harsh grip to relax on her wrists.

“Since you found it necessary to let my entertainment for the evening go free, I’ll just have to use you.” The man laughed, continuing to spray blood over her face.

When Sam moved her head to the side to avoid the blood, she spotted the pistol on the floor.

All she had to do was reach out and grab it. But she had to wait for the right moment. If he tightened his grip on her wrists again she would lose her chance.

“You’ll have to pay for what you’ve done.” He said reaching for the zipper on his jeans.

Sam took that moment when his hands were the furthest away from her arms and reached for the pistol. Turning swiftly, with her other hand she grabbed a handful of his crotch, squeezing with every ounce of strength she had. The man’s face turned white as she dug her fingers into his soft flesh. His hands instinctively reached down between his legs, frantically trying to release her vice-like grip.

“Sounds to me like your mouth’s writing a check your dick can’t cash,” she hissed through her teeth.

The sounds he was making made her smile, so just for the sheer fun of it, she dug in deeper.

“You bitch!” He screeched digging at her hand.

Sam pointed the pistol directly at his crotch. “Oh, that isn’t me being a bitch,” she said with a smile. “This is.” She pulled the trigger launching the dart directly into his so-called manhood.

The man screamed like a little girl would in a haunted house. His body stiffened like a board then rolled to the side, freeing her from his weight. Sam dragged herself to her feet and watched as his frenzied hands tried to remove the dart. Pulling her cell phone from her pocket, she called her uncle.

“It’s done. Three down.” She said simply then hung up the phone. She watched as the man succumbed to the tranquilizer. Satisfied that all three would rest quietly until the authorities could arrive, she retrieved her mask and slid it over her head then climbed out the window and began her search for the woman.

It didn’t take her long. The woman was hiding behind the biggest tree in the area. Sam walked to where she had stashed her bag, retrieved it and made her way to the woman. As she neared, the woman stiffened and held her breath.

“It’s over. The police are on their way.” She said as she pulled a jacket from her bag.

“You’ll have to wait until they get here. You need to be on the premises when they arrive.” Sam made a quick survey of the woman’s wounds. Nothing serious. A knife slash where they cut her bra and some bruising.

The woman shook her head as she stared at Sam. “Thank you. I thought I was going to die tonight.”

“I know. We’ll wait here until we hear sirens, then you can walk back to the cabin.”

“Are they dead?” She asked with a shaky voice.

“No, just sleeping.” Sam replied. “Listen, I know you’ve had a traumatic experience, but you have to look at this with a positive attitude.” The woman’s eyes reflected her confusion at Sam’s words. “You were lucky. There were at least two other women that weren’t. Your bruising, your cuts, they’ll all heal. It’s up you whether or not your mind heals. If you let this affect you, affect the way you live your life, then they have won. Be strong. When it comes time for a trial, stand up and tell people what sick, twisted, little cowards they are. Tell them how they dealt with someone weaker than they are. Show them that you’re a survivor.”

Understanding grew within the woman’s eyes. Even as her body shook from her trauma, her chin jutted out. “I will.”

Sam wrapped her arm around her and the woman lay her head on Sam’s shoulder. A prayer was sent to give the woman strength to overcome her ordeal and defeat the personal demons that were sure to haunt her.

It was eleven o’clock when Sam finally reached the waiting helicopter that would take her home. She crawled inside, mask in place and relaxed for the first time in what seemed like hours. She watched as the ground grew further and further away from her and when she felt satisfied that she was on her way, she closed her eyes.

“Thank you,” she whispered.

No need for thanks Samantha. You did well. Rest now. You will need it.

Sam grunted. What was that supposed to mean? she thought to herself. When no answer came she drifted off into a light sleep. It always amazed her that she could sleep so soon after a mission was completed, but then she was sure she had help.

She found herself back in the pretty little bedroom. The tinkling of the wind chimes made her feel warm and cozy. Then the shouting started again, her mother’s scream, her father’s pleas.

Sam reached for her knife but it wasn’t there. She looked down at herself and saw she was wearing a pink, frilly nightgown. She ran for the door but the room started spinning. The nausea welled up inside her. She opened her mouth to scream, but just like the last time, nothing would come.

No, she thought to herself, not again. I won’t lose them again. But try as she might she couldn’t make it to the door. Without warning her door burst open. A man dressed in blue jeans and a button up shirt stood in front of her. She watched as he reached out for her, her eyes drawn to a symbol on his hand.

She felt his hand reach into her hair and pull hard. His mouth was moving but she couldn’t hear any words. He tied her to a chair, smiled at her, then headed for the door. Sam could see across the hall into her parents’ bedroom. Her father was tied to a chair. Her mother lay naked on their bed. Two men stood over her arguing. She could still hear her father begging them to leave his family alone, but her mother lay still and quiet.

Her bedroom door slammed shut leaving her all alone and scared. She could hear herself praying for help, praying for her parents. Then she heard it for the first time, the whisper inside her head. It told her how to move her hands to get them free from the bindings. She heard it tell her how to get out of the house. Use the window, slide down the spouting. She found herself obeying every word.

Then the gunshot came. Her blood turned to ice as she screamed and fell. The sickening crunch of the bones snapping in her ankles echoed in her ears. Pain jolted through her legs making it impossible for her to walk, so she crawled through the yard. She knew they were coming. She could sense it. Her skin prickled and her stomach clenched. Then he was there, standing over her. He said something into a walkie-talkie, his voice sounding like an old forty-five record put on slow speed. She tried to crawl away, her fingers digging into the earth, pulling her wounded body across the grass, but she felt a sharp pain in her back, then came another gunshot.

Sam sat straight up, sweat running down her face. Her heart thundered in her ears. As she looked around she saw the helicopter was making its landing. A dream, she thought to herself, just a dream.

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