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Authors: Merry Jones

Outside Eden (23 page)

BOOK: Outside Eden
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The killer felt light, weightless, ran as if not touching the ground. Stopped along the way at the bungalow to take the knife from the satchel. Concealed it in a waistband. Hummed Amazing Grace on the way to the nursery, picturing the final sacrifice. The completion of the instructions. The adherence to the code. Travis would beam with appreciation, would open his arms, and they would stand together in glory for all time. What would it look like, feel like, to have their souls rise? To receive eternal life? To face the Rapture?

What would it be like to meet the Lord?

The nursery was just up the hill. The killer clung to the hidden knife, smiling, anticipating glory. But then the gate swung open. The killer stopped, stunned as if sucker-punched, gaping. Wailing aloud, ‘Nooo!’ as Frank and Travis emerged and led the lamb away.

Harper bulldozed forward, but Harold and the others closed in.

‘Just a second, Harper,’ Harold smiled. ‘I don’t think you’ve met Jimmy Thomson—’

One of the men snickered at her. Harper ignored him, swiveling to get around them. But Jimmy stepped sideways, stopping her, putting an outstretched hand on her arm.

Reflexively, she grabbed his wrist. Before he understood what was happening, his arm was bent and pinned tightly behind his back. Jimmy bent over, groaning.

The others froze for a moment, gaping. Regrouping. Reasoning that Harper was still outnumbered. There was no way she could twist all their arms at once. Harold moved slowly to her rear; the other man went to her left.

‘If either of you comes closer,’ Harper warned, ‘I’ll break Jimmy’s arm, and then I’ll crush at least one of your jaws.’

They paused. Looked at each other, then at Harper, sizing up the threat from this short petite sprite. Meantime, Harper glanced up the path, saw Hagit hanging back, walking reluctantly. Travis and Frank tugged at her, urging her along. Where were all the security officers? The groundskeepers? Anyone could see that the men were forcing Hagit to go with them. And why didn’t Hagit call out for help? Why didn’t she scream?

The short-lived standoff was coming to an end. Harold nodded to the other guy, and both took a wary step forward. Harper kept her word, raised her knee, snapped down, felt the cracking of bone, heard a howl as Jimmy collapsed. In the same move, she spun around, landing her fist squarely on the jaw behind her. Felt it cave on impact. Before the guy hit the ground, she drew her fist back and pivoted to face Harold, who backed away, hands raised.

‘Okay. No problem.’

Men were moaning. Harper stepped toward Harold, ready to strike. She met his eyes, said nothing.

Harold turned and ran.

Harper looked up the path for Hagit, saw her disappearing into some hedges with Travis and Frank. Oh God. Where were they going? With a surge of adrenalin, she took off after them, running to catch up. The war injury in her left leg throbbed; her knee threatened to buckle. And her wrist and knuckles stung; she hadn’t cold-cocked anyone in a long time and hadn’t positioned her hand quite right. But Harper sped, trying to catch up. It was almost the ninth of Av. And she was pretty sure that Travis had been looking for his third sacrifice.

The killer watched in disbelief. Travis? Travis had taken the third lamb. The killer’s jaw tensed, grasping the facts: Travis was going to make the sacrifice by himself. Personally.

But why? Was he so hungry for God’s approval that he would deny anyone else a chance for glory? Wasn’t it enough that Travis had decoded God’s instructions? That he had led them to Megiddo?

The killer watched the entourage climbing the hill – Travis, Frank and the offering, followed by Harper. And how about Harper? She’d just about made Harold wet his pants in fear. Snapped Jimmy’s arm like a twig; smashed Wendell’s face. Now, they rolled around moaning on the ground while other council members rushed out of the nursery school, coming to their rescue.

‘What happened?’ A council member named Stephen helped Jimmy to his feet.

Jimmy wailed. ‘My arm . . .’

Wait.

What were council members doing in the nursery school?

It had to be about Hagit. Probably they’d stayed there to make sure nobody called for help.

‘Just go ahead and do it!’ Jimmy bellowed. He tottered, seemed unable to stand.

‘Sorry, Jimmy. I’m supposed to wait. Nobody does anything unless Travis calls in an order.’

Wendell whimpered when they lifted him. Blood gurgled from his mouth.

‘But look what she did – you’ve got to . . .’

‘Jimmy, I’m not authorized to kill—’

‘An eye for an eye! An arm for an arm.’

‘—without authorization.’

What were they talking about? Did Jimmy want them to kill Harper?

‘Fine. I’ll do it myself.’ Jimmy thrust himself toward the nursery, holding his dangling and twisted arm. ‘Which one is hers?’

Hers? Oh dear. He was talking about Harper’s baby. She was in the nursery school.

‘Stop.’ Stephen pulled Jimmy’s intact arm. ‘You could ruin everything. It’s just a matter of hours, and then none of this will matter.’

The killer stayed hidden, watching Stephen calm Jimmy. Wondering which other council members were guarding the nursery. What they’d been ordered to do if Hagit refused to cooperate. Someone must have called for help; kibbutz medics arrived to deal with the injured men. The killer heard Stephen apologize for them, explaining that they’d been in a fistfight. That they’d caused each other’s wounds. Jimmy glared and fumed. Wendell spit blood.

The killer looked beyond them, watching Harper disappear up the hill behind Travis. And, making a wide path around the others, followed quickly, undetected.

If not for the breeze, Harper would have missed the spot, would have run right past. The bushes moved, though, as if to show her the narrow path where she’d last seen Hagit. It was familiar; she’d been there before. On her first day at the kibbutz. On the tour.

If not for the tour, she wouldn’t have understood where they’d gone. But she remembered the entrance concealed in the rocks, and she hurried through the shrubbery, easily locating the bunker door.

It was steel. Camouflaged to match the bushes and rocks. Positioned low, away from the road. And closed.

Harper put a hand on the lever that would open it. Slowly, steadily, she pushed it down and pulled on the door. The door didn’t budge. Damn. Was it locked? They’d locked it? She had no time to go for help – Travis might be killing Hagit that very moment. Might have already killed her. Harper looked around for help, saw no one. Where was all the kibbutz security? And what about Harold? He’d probably run off to gather a posse of church members. She peered over the hedges. The path was empty: so far, no one was chasing her. She tried the door again, pulled. Then shoved. The door swung forward, into the bunker.

Harper listened, heard Travis’s voice rising from below. Quietly stepped inside. The door clanged closed behind her, shutting out the sunlight. She stiffened, not breathing, waiting for Travis to respond to the sound. But Travis was still talking, hadn’t heard the door. Harper stood still, engulfed in darkness, hoping that her eyes would adjust. That she was in time to rescue Hagit. That she’d figure out a way to do so.

Carefully, she put a hand out, felt empty air. She extended a foot, tested the ground. Took a tentative step, another. Gradually, her eyes adjusted. By the time she got to the turn and the staircase leading underground, candlelight leaked from below, letting her see well enough to make out dim shapes. And by the time she descended the steps, the light was bright enough to reveal Hagit across the room, tied to a table, her forehead bleeding. And Travis standing beside her, holding a large gleaming knife above her throat.

Harper glanced left and right, saw no one, steeled herself and charged, pouncing, flying at Travis with arms extended. She was almost on him when something slammed her from behind. And she went down.

The bed was cold, hard and sheetless. Not a bed? Harper opened an eye, realized she was on flat concrete. Concrete with a golden flicker. She blinked. Focused. Saw that the flicker was a candle.

A candle?

Pain wracked her skull. She tried to get up, couldn’t move her hands. What had happened? Oh God – she remembered. Flying. The explosion, the hot white blast. The thunk of landing on a burnt-out car. The confusion. But wait . . . She wasn’t on a car. She was on a concrete floor. Why couldn’t she get up? Where was she?

She tried again, couldn’t separate her hands or feet. Felt the restriction – rope? Probably rope. Yes. Her hands were tied. She lay still, wondering if anyone were watching her. Peeking out of one eye, not seeing much beyond the candle near her head. Hearing a woman scolding.

‘. . . promise, you will have the wrath of God on you. You’ll regret . . .’ She stopped abruptly, her words muffled. Hagit? And then Harper remembered: she was in the bunker. She’d followed Travis and Frank there. They’d taken Hagit. They were going to kill her.

‘And it shall be as promised in Matthew twenty-four, verse seven: “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.”’ Travis’s voice paused, then continued in a language she didn’t understand. Greek? Hebrew? Prayers over Hagit, his intended sacrifice.

Harper needed to stop them. She twisted her wrists until she felt some slack in the rope, and bent her wrists, working the bindings, tugging. Chafing her skin. Accidentally pulling the wrong way and tightening the binding. Starting over, loosening it again. Listening to Travis, racing against his blessings. Yanking, wriggling her hands until, finally, she eased them out of the loops of rope.

Rubbing her raw wrists, she sat up and turned her head. Too fast. The walls began spinning. And so did the elephants.

Elephants?

Yes. And giraffes. And zebras. And monkeys. All in pairs, all around her, all tottering onto the ark.

Harper closed her eyes. Reasoned that she’d been knocked out. Had a head wound. Her balance was off. She needed to steady herself. She held the wall and opened her eyes again.

A monkey stared back at her from the mural, swaying slightly.

Harper leaned against the ark, balancing. Aware that Hagit could die while she wobbled there, watching the parade of animals.

In the next room, Travis was still preaching. ‘As written in Peter chapter three, verses one to eighteen: “But the day of the Lord will come like a Thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar, the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.” So it is that we lay the groundwork for our Father as he directed in his code, preparing the hearth for his flames.’

Someone said, ‘Amen.’

Hagit grumbled something unintelligible. At least she was still alive.

Harper reached down, untying her feet. She didn’t try to stand. She rolled onto her stomach, looked around, and crawled on her belly to the doorway. In the next room, the walls were lined with cots, sofas and shelves of supplies and canned food. At the far end, candles encircled the table where Hagit lay bound. Travis and Frank stood at her head. Two other men at her feet. Harper leaned through the doorway, saw no one else. Just the four.

Quickly, silently, she got to her feet, testing her balance, steadying her breath. Figuring out how to proceed. But before she could decide, Travis raised his sparkling knife and paused, ready to thrust it into Hagit’s throat.

Reflexively, as if it were a grenade, Harper grabbed the candle beside her and threw it at Travis’s hand.

It missed. Sailed past his hand, grazing his head as it smacked the wall. But it served its purpose, distracting Travis and the others. Postponing the slash of the knife. While the men were momentarily confused, locating and identifying the flying object, Harper took a running start. By the time they turned to trace its source, she’d built enough momentum to leap around the table and pounce onto Pastor Travis, knocking the knife from his hand. It skittered across the floor, and Harper dove for it, but couldn’t get to it before all four men dove for her. Harper managed to poke an eye and knee a groin, but the mass of four men constrained her. She lay on the floor, helpless, four men seated in a row along her back. Crushing her. The one on her calves sent pain up her left leg, and she couldn’t breathe under the weight of the one crushing her lungs. Was it Frank? Anyway, she had no choice. Had to lie still, waiting for them to get off.

‘How’d she get loose?’ panted the one on her legs. ‘I thought you tied her—’

‘Where’s the knife?’ Travis snapped. Harper felt his weight shift, starting to get up and look.

But before he could, with a cracking thunk and a deep grunt, Frank’s body slumped onto her shoulders. Instantly, the others were on their feet, scrambling. Harper rolled out from under Frank, saw Hagit, her face bloodied and wrists still tied in front of her, raised high, her hands gripping an industrial-sized can of apple sauce. Ready to strike another head.

Before the men could corral Hagit, Harper was up, dividing their attention. One of the churchmen came at her; she lunged, thrusting her fist hard into his larynx, feeling it smash. He was still falling when the next man came for her. She positioned her head and shoulders, braced her body and rammed his gut, using his own mass against him. He staggered, reeling. Harper regained her balance and was drawing back onto her stronger leg, preparing to slam him when she heard a sharp crack. The man’s eyes rolled up as he fell, and another apple sauce can clattered to the floor.

Harper pivoted, fists ready. But no one confronted her. She counted three bodies, all limp. At least one – the larynx guy – was dead. She’d crushed his throat. Killed him. Somewhere in the distance, gunfire rumbled. Smoke billowed. A woman became a hot blast of white . . .

‘Untie my hands.’ It was an order.

And it snapped Harper back to the present. She untied Hagit’s hands, but was concerned about her wound. ‘Your head . . .’

‘I’m fine. Let’s go.’ Hagit wiped blood from her eyes, pushed Harper toward the door.

But Harper didn’t move. She looked around, trying to find Travis’s knife. Saw shelves of food and paper goods, medical supplies and candles. Bright colored walls with happy animals, marching two by two.

BOOK: Outside Eden
6.93Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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