Authors: Leigh Talbert Moore
Tags: #Love, #Romantic, #Survival, #Small Town, #Paranormal, #Suspense, #Adventure, #action, #female protagonist
“I couldn’t sleep last night,” she said. “I don’t know what I’d do if something happened to you. You’re my only hope.”
I squeezed her hand. “Nothing’s going to happen to me.”
Yolanda, who’d been listening, nodded. “We were planning to find you. Roxie and I were all ready—”
Gratitude at this sudden show of support and the new allies I had found was just warming my chest when the tone sounded ending our meal. I gave her a quick smile as we all stood. Half my team filed to the barn and the other half went to the field, but I went alone to the grove of trees in the yard. I figured I’d rest a few minutes and then walk the perimeter again.
My body was even stiffer now, but the pills had relieved the pain somewhat. I was thankful to have them. Gallatin was very kind to me, and he didn’t seem as cautious as the others. I was sure I’d be able to get the information I needed from him soon. Soon I’d be able to escape and bring help.
A flash of worry touched me, and I couldn’t help wondering what would happen to him when I showed up with the cavalry. My jaw clenched as I grabbed a low branch on one of the thin trees. It didn’t matter. It wasn’t my place to worry about him. He was with the enemy, and they’d forfeited my pity when they took down Cleve and filled those boxes.
They’d chosen to take us hostage, and for all I knew, they’d killed our neighbors, Yolanda’s boyfriend Russell. Righteous anger burned in my chest as I remembered all the Dabb Creek residents who were unaccounted for. I thought of that guard Ovett and how he seemed to like terrorizing us. My lips were tight as I remembered what had happened to my one ally.
From there, my mind slowly drifted to Ovett’s conversation with Cato, and her concern for her brother. Gallatin came late to the game here. He was younger, not as warlike. He saved my life...
I thought about his laugh, him getting me out of work, sending me pain relievers, and asking me to train him. Maybe once I had the whole story it would make sense, and we could figure out something at that point. Maybe I could ask for leniency.
I shook my head. I wasn’t smart with these kinds of problems. Jackson was better at stuff like this. He’d know the right thing to do.
I held onto the low branch and tried to stretch my hip. It was the worst injury, and it made walking hard. Every time I lifted my leg, a sharp pain radiated down to my knee. I was pretty positive nothing was broken, but it’d be several days before this muscle injury healed. On the bright side, it made a great excuse if I were questioned about walking the perimeter. Dr. Green always said lack of use was the worst thing you could do for these types of injuries. I had to exercise it gently.
A quick scan of the yard showed no one was watching me. In fact, none of the soldiers seemed too concerned about their one little injured prisoner. I guess I’d demonstrated loyalty or something. I walked slowly to the spot where I’d buried the trowel and after another quick scan, I gingerly eased myself down. But I dropped too fast to my knees, and the pain took my breath away.
I gasped a little cry of pain, and several minutes passed before I could open my eyes again. When I felt able, I leaned forward on my right hand and started scooping the loose red dirt slowly from the existing hole. I hadn’t checked around me before I started, but I didn’t feel afraid. I felt invisible. I continued digging for another minute, and suddenly my fingers touched something hard and thin. I leaned forward ignoring the pain and pressed both my hands into the hole feeling the sides of the object. Sure enough, it was the trowel I’d buried. It was still there!
“What are you doing?” A male voice said.
I shrieked and flew backwards, onto my rear, which elicited another sharp yelp from me. Only this time it was a cry of pain.
“Prentiss!” It was Gallatin, suddenly on his knees and taking my arm. He’d caught me. “What are you doing? Are you okay?”
My eyes were squeezed shut, but I was able to realize his tone was more of concern than suspicion.
“Why are you out here at the fence?” he asked again. “Digging?”
I scrambled for an excuse, my chest rising and falling so fast I was afraid I’d hyperventilate. The pain surged from my injured hip, which I’d just landed on with all my weight, making it impossible to think creatively.
“I thought I saw something,” I lied. “Out there in the woods.”
He seemed to believe me and took a step forward, squinting out into the shadowy trees. After a few moments, he turned his golden-brown eyes back to me. I was terrified.
“What was it?”
“I... I don’t know.” I tried to regain my composure and not act suspicious. “It made me curious. I mean, I thought I might check it out.”
“Well, if you were caught trying to dig out...” His lips pressed together as he stopped himself.
What? What would happen? They’d set off my microchip?
I wanted to ask so badly it hurt more than my hip, but I had to take it easy.
He sat beside me and started moving the dirt back into the hole. “I’ve been out there, you know. There’s a creek just over the next hill.”
“Yes!” I seized on this opportunity. “There’s lots of creeks in the woods around here. Natural springs, too.”
He continued filling the hole and his voice became tentative. “I could show it to you if you want. But we’d have to sneak. Maybe one day after lunch?”
It took all my power to stay cool and not reveal the excitement in my voice. My heart was beating so hard, I was sure he could hear it. “But you just said if I were caught—”
“They don’t really want to isolate anyone. It’s not feasible.” His face softened into that smile again, the one that made me want to trust him. “And I’d take the blame if anyone found out. It was my idea.”
He stood and swept the dirt from his hands. His palms were orange now from covering my evidence.
“It’s so hot,” he continued. “We’ve been working double shifts. And what’s the expression? You just took one for the team?”
I managed to smile back. “You don’t have to convince me!”
“Can I help you stand? I wanted to check on you since you had the day off, but you weren’t in the dorm.”
I placed my hands in his and slowly rose to my feet.
“Exercise is best for something like this—
” The pain was so intense when I stood, I couldn’t stop my cry.
Gallatin’s grip tightened, and he practically lifted me off the ground. “I can get more pain relievers. Let me take you back—”
“I can’t take all the medicine,” I gasped, taking a cautious step. “What if somebody else needs it?”
“There’ll be enough.”
His arm went around my waist, and he practically carried me to our sleeping quarters. I rested my head against his firm chest. Without hesitation, he pushed through the screen doors, and his eyes swept the large room. I noticed him frown again.
“The accommodations here are not what we’d hoped for,” he said before turning to me. “Show me where you sleep.”
“Back right. There.” I nodded in the direction of my bunk, and he lifted me to it.
“I’ll get the pills and be back. Try and relax.”
My thoughts swirled as I watched him stride from the building. He told me so many things without me having to ask.
Why would they isolate us if they could just electrocute us or inject us with whatever took Cleve down? I’d heard him arguing with Cato about being in the woods. Why would she worry about him sneaking out? What kind of accommodations were they expecting? And what did it even matter if we were prisoners of war?
I squeezed my hands together as I considered how close I was to finding out what we needed. Now I just had to get well. There was no way I could attempt an escape with my hip raging with pain. Not with all the hills in these woods. It hurt so bad sometimes, I couldn’t breathe. Still, while I healed, I would do my best to keep him talking—and stop throwing my whole body weight on my injury. I was young and healthy. I could be ready to run in a week, maybe less, but I had to be careful.
Those thoughts consumed my mind when a female guard returned with a small envelope. Two white pills were inside, and on the outside was a note:
Sorry, will explain later. Take these and please rest.
I nodded and took the pills, lying back on the cot to do just that. Rest and recover. The trowel was still hidden, and I was making progress. It wouldn’t be long now.
* * *
n the yard after lunch, D’Lo didn’t go to his usual spot to sit down and rest. He waited for me at the shed, and when I arrived he caught me up off the ground in such a strong hug, I cried out in pain.
“Sorry,” he said, releasing me quickly, and I saw tears in his black eyes. “Little girl, I was so scared.”
“I’m okay,” I said, rubbing his huge bicep. “I really was flattened by a calf.”
“We didn’t know you were gone until lunch, and then no one knew anything. Those guards weren’t around to ask, and that boy you’re always with was missing, too.”
“Gallatin,” I said.
“I was scared he’d decided to take you or something. I knew he wouldn’t kill you.”
“Where would he take me?”
“Back to wherever they came from.”
“What!?” I almost started laughing. “To his intergalactic harem? Do aliens do that, Dee?”
I winced as I tried to sit on the table top, but Dee lifted me easily. “More like the intergalactic zoo. Smallest, most smart-assed white girl in the galaxy.”
“I was thinking she’d be in the circus,” Roxie said with a smile. “Driving the midget car.” She slid over to where I sat and started braiding my hair back.
“You haven’t lost your mind and started believing this alien crap too, have you?” I elbowed her knee.
“No,” Yolanda answered, dead serious. “We were making a plan. All that talk your brother’s done about rebels and pine boxes. I wasn’t letting my only chance at escape go down without a fight.”
“I’m trying to figure out if that makes me feel better. I’m not sure it does.” I squinted in her direction.
“We never were friends in school,” she continued. “I didn’t like you much. You were too blind to that boyfriend of yours.”
I wasn’t sure what she meant, but her words made me think about school and Jackson and normal life. Those days seemed so far away now. I looked down, but Roxie yanked my head back up so she could finish.
Yolanda continued. “I’m sorry I was mean to you back then. Star might’ve bested you, but you’ve turned out to be a mighty strong person.”
My brow lined as I studied her face. I didn’t understand what she meant about Star, but we didn’t have time for getting side-tracked into the past.
“I just want to survive and get out of here. Just like all of us,” I said. “I’d like to consider you my friend.”
She nodded. “Me, too.”
Braxton broke in on us without warning, and he was beside himself. “I went to the barn, but you weren’t there,” he almost shouted. “Oh, little sister.”
He made like he was about to grab me in another painful hug, but D’Lo stopped him. “She’s hurt, man. Take it easy.”
Braxton hesitated and looked me over. Then he took my hands. “What did they do to you?”
“Nothing—it really was the calf! I’d just started to pull his legs when he shot out and landed on me.” Repeating the story was making me tired. Actually, as I blinked my eyes, I realized I was tired, period.
“I didn’t know what to do,” he sat and put his dark head in his hands. “I didn’t sleep all night. Losing you would’ve been the last thing I could take.”
“I hope you were praying for me.” It was my attempt to lighten the mood, and it totally backfired.
” he snapped. The bitterness in his voice shocked me. “Why would I do that?
I tried to laugh, but it didn’t work. “Because that’s what you do?”
“C’mon.” D’Lo pulled Roxie’s arm, and Yolanda joined them. I watched as the three headed out of the shed, leaving me alone with my brother.
We sat in silence for a bit, listening to the quiet swell of wind somewhere down in the bottom. There was no breeze here, but in the dark trees, it was like a spirit was moving all the time, always pushing through the limbs. I thought about the Indians believing the spirits of their ancestors lived in the trees, and I thought about those boxes the guys had buried. I wanted to share my thoughts with my brother, but I wasn’t sure where his mind was now.
“So you’ve just given up?” I said.
“On foolish things that don’t make sense? Yes.”
I sighed and put my head in my hands. “I prayed, Braxton. I prayed that little calf would come out, and he did.”
“And how did that work out?”
I couldn’t answer him, because I didn’t have the right answer to his question. The calf almost killed me, but at the same time, it moved me forward like ten spaces with Gallatin and my plan.
“I prayed I’d marry Lisa,” he said, looking out into the shadowy woods. “I prayed Daddy’d stop drinking and beating me up. I prayed you’d find happiness. Real happiness. I prayed for a future...”
His voice broke off, and I glanced at him. He was still staring straight ahead, but I saw his Adam’s apple move up and down. A glimmer of sadness filled his eyes.
“Those things could still happen,” I said softly.
“Prayer’s for little kids who can’t sleep at night. Prayer’s for people who can’t act because they’re too afraid.” He looked straight at me then, and I felt afraid. “I’m not praying anymore, Prentiss. Not ever again.”
he next morning at chores, Gallatin kept trying to catch my eye. He’d offered to get me another day off, but I’d declined, wanting to keep moving and not liking long days with nothing to do but wait and worry. Still I moved slowly, and I only managed to get one pail of milk compared to the other girls’ two. I was carrying the warm, white liquid to the churn when he appeared at my side and took it from my hand.
“Let me carry it,” he said softly.
He took it but didn’t continue walking. He stopped and faced me, right there in the center of the barn. My eyes moved around the room, wondering what everyone might think of this behavior, but the other girls only glanced at us and continued with their work. They seemed satisfied that I needed help.