Sarah Aisling’s Picture Choice: 2
Title: Got a Secret . . . Can You Keep it? (Part Nineteen)
Ciel bayed at the sky in frustration. She soon realized that although she'd been blinded by the light upon emerging from the bunker, the sun was making a rapid descent. The gold and orange streaks over deepening gradients of purple would normally entice Ciel to stop wherever she was and drink in the beauty; today the sky seemed to mock her.
Tearing her gaze from the darkening sky, Ciel took in the surrounding destruction. There was no obvious path to the trapdoor. She supposed that was purposeful on Melinda's part to keep anyone from discovering the secrets below ground. Letting loose a string of colorful expletives, Ciel picked her way through the debris, careful to avoid boards with exposed nails and broken furniture with sharp, splintered edges. Pieces of plaster caved beneath her feet, sending up small white puffs. Old water pipes poked up from the ground, twisted into a grotesque sculpture.
Once her sneakers touched down on the scorched grass, she heaved a deep breath and dared to look beyond the perimeter of the destroyed cottage. The field of gently rolling hills dotted by trees and bushes seemed to go on forever. Way in the distance, the density of the woods made it impossible to tell what lay beyond.
Tears burned Ciel's eyes. It would take her a long time to walk to the trees in any direction, certainly past nightfall, but she wasn't even sure which way to go first. She noticed the tracks from Melinda's car came from multiple directions.
“Can't that bitch just give me a break?” A tear escaped, and Ciel swiped it away. “Reality time, girl—you have to go back in there and get those car keys. Wacko is awake by now and pissed as hell. Who knows how long Janice will be out?”
Ciel glanced at the trapdoor and shuddered. She didn't want to go back in there—ever—but she wasn't leaving without Janice. She sat on the ground and rocked back and forth, her fingers pulling at her hair. What to do . . . What to do.
“Ciel? Where are you?” Janice's frightened voice drifted up from below. “Oh my God . . . Aunt MJ! What the—”
Ciel leaped to her feet and ran back through the rubble without thought. “JANICE! I'm up here! Outside! Don't unlock that door!” She twisted her ankle, almost going down, but managed to regain her footing. When she reached the opening, she leaned down and yelled into the dark, afraid if she went in, she'd never escape again. “JANICE!”
“How the hell did we get outside and my aunt inside? How do I find you? Your voice is echoing everywhere.” Janice's words ended on a sob.
“If your back is against the door, go to the right and follow the hallway until you get to a small room. There's a stairway leading outside.”
“Okay . . . God, I'm so tired.”
“She drugged the soup.” Ciel perched on the rim of the trapdoor with her feet dangling against damp stone. She hoped Janice could make it out on her own because she had no intention of setting foot down there again.
Janice's shuffling steps echoed around, growing louder as she made her way through the maze to the bottom of the stairs. “Ciel?”
Janice climbed slowly, clutching the railing to keep her balance. She squinted against the dying light as she emerged. By then the sun had dipped below the treetops, and Janice's pale skin was awash in a bluish light that highlighted the hollows beneath her cheeks and the dark crescents under her eyes. The inky curls tangled around her thin face made the changes she'd gone through these past weeks stand out all the more. When she saw Ciel, she smiled. “Hey.”
“Hey, yourself.” Tears streamed down Ciel's face as she helped Janice turn and sit on the ledge beside her.
The girls hugged each other and cried. Ciel didn't have the heart to tell Janice their challenge wasn't quite over yet.
After a while, Janice pulled away and used the sleeve of her hoodie to soak up her tears. “Aunt MJ drugged our soup?”
“Yeah, the crazy bitch. But you ate most of mine, remember?”
“Jesus . . . she could have killed me! But why?”
“I pretended to be knocked out. She came in talking about getting you far away from here. I was waiting for the perfect moment to do something, but then I—I saw her.” Ciel closed her eyes, remembering how she'd screamed at the sight of Melinda's ruined face. “She tried to hide her face from me and ended up slipping on the playing cards. Her head smashed against the floor—and I dragged you out and locked her in.”
“You can't make shit like this up.” Janice laughed, then craned her neck to take in their surroundings. “A car! Could we get any luckier?”
“Don't get too excited . . . The keys are in the bunker with your aunt.”
“Fuck me. Guess we'll have to hoof it.”
“Um, yeah—take a look around.”
Janice stood up and surveyed the area around the ruins. “We are so screwed.”
Ciel gasped. “Maybe not.” Janice glanced at Ciel, who pointed past the car. “Look!”
Several yards away, a beautiful chocolate mare twitched her tail as she munched on the grass.
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Sarah Aisling hails from the East Coast of the US and loves living by the ocean with her incredibly indulgent husband and precocious daughter. She’s currently editing her upcoming novel, The Weight of Roses. When Sarah isn’t being enslaved by her characters, she can be found with her nose in a book, obsessing over nail polish or anything leopard, biking, hiking, camping, and spending time with friends and family. Twitter: @SarahAisling Facebook #DailyPicspiration