Today was a solid day of writing. I managed to do 2,400 words today.
At first, she thought the body had moved. Then she realized it was shuddering in response to her contact with it. She clenched her hands together, fingers intertwined to staunch the shaking. The jackhammer in her head had moved to her chest, and her heart was racing. She heard the flow of blood in her ears, the constant pounding surging through her body, causing a throbbing pain in her head.
The staccato thundering was a distraction.
The sound of encroaching footfalls was getting louder, and thus closer, her addled brain told her. There was a slight squeak as the tread reacted with the smooth bare floor. Each step sounded purposeful, perhaps confident. She could discern two distinct steps. There are two of them, her brain fired off again.
The presence of the cellphone still pressed against her ear dragged her out of the chaotic thoughts swirling around her like the tide. Pieces of instruction and training floated on the surface like flotsam and jetsam. She knew she needed to do something. What is wrong with me? she thought.
She scanned the room, and the floor beneath her spun like one of those carnival rides. She waited for the floor to drop out from under her. As a child, she anticipated the exhilaration. Maybe it was through that lens of the carnival experience, but everything looked far away, and impossible to reach. She could hear voices now, sharp, gruff, and rapid. Whoever they were, they were arguing. What were they arguing about? Teresa strained to make out the heated exchange. She still couldn’t make out the words, whether from the distance, or the fog that had settled in her head. Are they going to kill me? A glance at the body on the bed told her she shouldn’t wait to find out if they were returning to finish the job.
She couldn’t fathom if she had heard the word, or if her subconscious was screaming, echoing the notion against her skull. Regardless, Teresa found herself nodding in acquiescence, before a wave of nausea caused her throat to burn against the effort to not vomit. She struggled to get up.
Her knees buckled and she dropped the cellphone as she stuck out her arms to absorb the impact with the carpet that was still spinning. She heard a snap and felt a tearing pain in her wrist. The phone bounced, and clattered off the carpet and onto the bare floor. Loudly.
The advancing footfalls paused, and the voices stopped.
Teresa backed away on her uninjured hand and knees until the realization that she was still trapped in the barren room struck her. She couldn’t tell what made seeing an escape route more difficult, the haze she swam through or the damned bed blocking her field of view.
Teresa focused on the low bed and saw her wadded up black two-button stretch wool jacket. It had been kicked under the bed like a cast off slipper. A poor way to treat my Dolce and Gabbana, she thought, scowling. She stretched out, and winced each time she moved her shoulders, backside, and heels to work her into the tight space, but she knew she’d been in tighter spots before – both literally and figuratively.
The cellphone’s screen had dimmed due to inactivity. The telltale brightness indicated an incoming call, and she nearly dropped the damn thing as she fumbled to silence the ringtone.
The footfalls resumed. This time they were slower with caution, almost tentative.
Teresa pulled her jacket to her chin as she continued her decent into the small darkness. Something soft skittered against her ribs, and a quartet of out-of-focus blobs scampered away. She ignored them. She could feel the bedframe against her chest, and the floor pressed against her shoulder blades. She could breath in the dust as long as she didn’t try to do it deeply. Not that she wanted to, with the constant reminder that she was covered with bruises. She continued working her body inch by painful inch until she stubbed her toes on the headboard.
Never quite succeeding in catching her breath, Teresa wound her jacket around her body, concealing her face, and hands. She winced as her shoulder dug into a wooden slat, and she heard the crack of it giving way to her labored movements. She froze, listening for signs that the noise had betrayed her position. She shifted into a fetal position and hoped her dark jacket was enough to conceal her position, the cellphone flat against her chest, her body obscuring the bright screen.
Her ears perked up as she heard the doorknob squeak at its rotation.
Teresa drew in what breath she could and held it, wedged between the box springs and the wooden floor. Her head lolled to the floor, and she already felt a crick in her neck forming. What a pain in the neck, a dark pun surfaced. She couldn’t laugh even if she wanted to perform the cathartic action, the door creaked open.
“Damn it.” Teresa squeezed her eyes closed when she heard the unfamiliar voice and swear.
“How the hell did she get away?” another voice responded.
“I dunno,” the first voice snapped. “You said that shit would keep her out for at least twelve hours.”
“We shoulda checked her.”
“Ya think she’s got it?”
The response was a harsh grating bark; a chuckle dragged through gravel. “He didn’t.” The laugh subsumed into a coughing fit. “Check the room,” it continued through wheezing gasps of breath.
“Should we make the call?”
Teresa strained to hear the fragments of conversation. It didn’t make sense, but she knew it would be important later. She peered through the torn seam in her favorite jacket into the murk beyond her hiding spot. A strip of light marked the demarcation of the bed. Doors were opened and closed. A window painted shut was opened with a grunt, the tearing of latex paint and the scrape of metal against metal grated on her ears.
Teresa shuddered. No, she admonished herself, don’t move! She shoved her hands into her armpits. Her wrist screamed at the contortions, but she was afraid her exposed skin would glow like a beacon of a lighthouse warning her pursuers to her location. She exhaled shallow breaths against the stretch-silk lining.
A floorboard creaked, and Teresa held her breath as gleaming tips of polished leather broke the line of pale light. The light revealed scratches on the shiny toes, and she shrunk from the grunt she heard. She chewed on her bottom lip, the pain radiating heat to keep her focused.
A pale face, partially obscured in shadow appeared in her space. A narrow, unsmiling mouth pursed, reflected light highlighting a day or two of growth on a squared chin. Teresa clenched, commanding her limbs to freeze painfully in place. She squeezed her elbows into her chest to stop the thundering beating of her heart. She was sure he would hear it banging away against her ribs.
Something dribbled onto his cheek from above. The whiskers caused it to change direction again and again. Teresa bit the inside of her cheek, commanding herself not to react to the gore. Another drop landed – it was thick and viscous, slowly trailing the previous one.
Don’t move! Don’t move! Don’t move!
Teresa could feel the phone digging into her sternum. She was overwhelmed by the fear that the phone would somehow slip out from her camouflage, lighting up the space for her discovery. That fear was overshadowed by a new one: the face was slowly turned in her direction. She somehow tensed her already tense body. Had she been discovered?
Above her, the bed sagged and shifted as the other person climbed on it. Teresa could feel the eyes of the anonymous face attempting to stare through the darkness.
“You see anything?”
No, Teresa thought, willing the man to comply.
The pale face encroaching her hiding place dropped, but it was still peering into Teresa’s hiding spot, like an ally cat waiting for a mouse to show itself from under a dumpster.
“Anything?” the gravelly voice demanded. Too may packs of Camels had ruined the rough voice to a harsh timbre.
Pale face glanced over his shoulder, the blood spatter changing direction before rising out of Teresa’s view.
“I need a flashlight.”
“I look like one o’ them clown twins on that HG fuckin’ TV show?” raspy voice snapped back.
An exasperated sigh from pale face, followed by, “Gimmie your cellphone, man.”
A smoke-grated cough scoffed. “Use your own, dude.”
Teresa watched, frozen in fear, as a cellphone screen brightened. She swallowed hard as a scant rectangle of blue light slowly rotated from the opposite end and creeped steadily toward her face. She couldn’t move, her joints burned with the effort of remaining still. She felt the strain of her limbs being bent at awkward angles, for far longer than anyone should have to endure. She could only watch, seeing the anemic beam of light pierced her like a laser, its heat crawling up her legs, to her knees, it was almost to her…
A dark mass dropped from the box springs, landed on her covered head, and darted out from the darkness. Pale face’s eyes grew wide, and disappeared. The cellphone dropped with a satisfying crack, the light blinked before fading out. The spots on Teresa’s eyes remained.
“Holy shit!” The black shoes performed a rapid two-step away from Teresa. “Rats! God dammed disease ridden…”
Teresa swallowed as she heard a squeak, and the sound of something soft striking a distant wall.
“Did you see anything?” the other rasped, not sharing pale face’s scare.
“Ya mean other than that furry mutha fucka?” A tattooed hand retrieved the dropped cellphone. “Fuck!” the voice continued. “You’d need to be frickin’ Houdini to fit under there.”
The bed above Teresa creaked, particulates of God knows what rained down on her. “You searched the body?”
Something else Teresa didn’t want to think about dripped on her exposed cheek, and rolled slowly toward the corner of her mouth. She fought to not gag, bile rising in her throat.
“Twice, man. He doesn’t fuckin’ have it.”
“Search upstairs,” the raspy voice ordered. “I’ll look downstairs. Lil’ miss thang couldn’t’ve gone very far, not with that much shit in her.”
Teresa heard leather shoes shuffle as pale face obeyed the command. She tensed and held her breath as both pairs of black leather stomped past the bed and out the door. She lay there in silence as the footfalls retreated down the hall, growing more and more faint, until at last she couldn’t hear them.
But still, she was unable to move.
Teresa allowed her neck to slacken, and she felt the cold floor against her cheek. She shuddered, and the movement caused the wood to press against her jaw, forcing the stench of old decay and must into her nostrils. The odor was smothering, gagging. Her legs spasmed, her wrist ached dully, but still she couldn’t move.
Teresa hugged the jacket to her face, hoping the expensive cloth would filter out the stench. She fought the urge to just close her eyes and allow the sweet embrace of oblivion to envelope her. Passing out would solve nothing, and it could potentially lead to my capture, she thought, and a voice in the back of her head corrected her: again.
She maneuvered the silent cellphone between her ear and the floor, waiting for it to announce that help had arrived.
Hide. The thought echoed again.
Yes, she was hidden. Now she would wait. Teresa wracked her brain trying to remember what she was waiting for… no who she was waiting for. Deep down, she knew if she waited long enough, everything would be okay.
Above her, the bed wept another thick, coppery tear on her cheek. She felt her eyes wet as the gruesome drop slowly rolled down her face.