Aleea Davidson’s Picture Choice: One
Title: Wither Part 9
Glen plunged the room back into darkness by extinguishing the single candle he’d lit earlier. The room instantly felt colder and damper without the meager light, and Mara wondered how much of that prior weak glow had permeated the tiny, filth-encrusted window. The silhouette she’d seen vanished, but it was impossible to tell if the person had moved or if it was just too dark to see them any longer.
Mara’s heart felt like it was doing jumping jacks into her throat. Inanely she wondered how much stress she could take before she cracked like an egg. Images of her brothers appeared the instant she squeezed her eyelids shut, and anger peaked amid the panic as the door rattled noisily in its frame again. Imagining them at home, probably still sailing the paper boats she’d made them in the pretend lake they created in the kitchen sink, gave her much needed courage. She instantly began scanning the room in search of a weapon. She wasn’t about to crack, nor was she going to stand there and be a victim. Leaving her boys alone and defenseless wasn’t an option. Teddy and Jeremy needed her, she’d be damned if she let anyone take her away from them.
The candle on the milk crate table was perched in a tarnished silver holder that looked solid. Suspecting Glen had likely pilfered it from the altar upstairs, she lurched away from him and made a grab for it. In her haste she came close to tipping the crates. Glen stopped them from crashing to the floor, giving her an exasperated warning glare. She tossed the stub of a candle onto the cot, mouthing a silent sorry, before wrapping her hand around the base of the holder and wielding it like a club. His expression cleared, and he gave her a nod of approval.
The door to the room they inhabited was partway open. Glen moved, impressively silent, to the right of the jamb, gesturing for her to join him. He poked his head out carefully, his hand moving to his back and drawing out a gun she never knew he had. The sight of it made her bladder spasm with fear. For a nasty second she was once more watching the butcher put the barrel to his temple and pulling the trigger.
Luckily the flashback faded as quickly as it had come, and she didn’t pee herself. Her world reordered itself and time crashed back into the present. She’d never been a fan of guns, and she wasn’t about to start now, but Glen held it like he knew how to use it. She couldn’t deny a part of her felt relief. The heavy candlestick in her hands felt flimsy and silly in comparison, though she kept hold of it, more than ready to bludgeon whoever stepped through that door into a bloody pulp if necessary.
Glen held his hand out behind him, silently asking her to stay, then darted out into the empty room between them and the door that had stopped rattling. That whoever was out there had stopped trying to get in should have filled Mara with a sense of relief. It didn’t. The silence felt thick and ominous. With the absence of sound, a faint ringing in her ears began, distracting and annoying. Unable to keep still, she crept out behind Glen, trying to copy his cat-quiet steps and failing. One of her shoes scraped the bare concrete floor, rasping loudly, seeming to echo off the walls.
Glen spun, briefly lifting the gun her way before dropping it back to his side, his expression tight with tension. Mara mouthed a sorry, understanding why he looked pissed and hating her own clumsiness. Fear was making her feet feel like lead, and the candlestick kept slipping in her hold thanks to a slick dew of perspiration coating her palms.
She switched hands, wiping the sweat off on her skirt before switching again. Glen turned around and resumed his stealthy path to the door. This time Mara stayed put, feeling more inclined to do as she’d been told now that she wasn’t alone in that tiny room. Being able to see Glen and watch what he was doing was infinitely better, though a fine quaking started in the muscles of her calves from the tension it took to keep still. He had the gun, yet she felt oddly protective, every inch of space he gained away from her making it less likely she could help him if the person trying to get in was lurking and waiting. Glen reached the door, and Mara watched, a blizzard of malevolent butterflies in her stomach, as he leaned forward and put his ear against it, listening.
Her breath caught in her lungs. She could see how pale Glen’s complexion had become, but his hand that held the gun was steady. His gaze met hers, and she experienced a moment of intense connection. She didn’t know this man well, yet in that moment it felt as if she’d known him all her life. Her trust in him grew, something within whispering that he would protect her with his life if need be. Funny how she felt the same. She lifted the candlestick, holding it with both hands like a small, odd-shaped bat, and they both waited.
Seconds that felt like hours ticked by. Just when Mara felt sure whoever it was had left, the door knob turned and a series of knocks startled them both. Glen jumped and stepped back, lifted his arm and pointed the gun.
“Glen? Are you in there? It’s Ben, man. Come on, if you’re in there, open the door.”
Glen froze. For a moment, Mara feared he’d shoot. His finger looked so tight against that trigger it seemed inevitable; an action he wouldn’t be able to stop despite the fact whoever was outside seemed to be someone he knew. As she mentally attempted to prepare herself for the sound of gunfire, she also took a few quick steps, as if she could possibly prevent what might happen next. Instead of a shot, Glen swore, loud enough the vulgar word bounced off the walls and hurt her ears.
He wrenched the door open, and the man outside stumbled in. He must have been doing the same thing as Glen, leaning against it. Glen caught him then instantly shoved him back, his face no longer white, slashes of red high on his cheekbones, his mouth a tight hard line.
“Son of a bitch,” he growled. “I goddamn nearly killed you, you stupid ass.”
The man named Ben, dragged a hand over his face and glared back. “Yeah? Well you might want to stow that gun and give a listen. I’m taking considerable risk coming here to find you this close to damn daylight, in case you didn’t notice.”
Glen shoved the door closed. “I noticed.” He looked down at his watch. “This place isn’t going to protect you. By my time, you’ve got fifteen minutes. Better say what you need to in a hurry.”
The man named Ben looked at her for the first time, noting the candlestick. “Drop it, darlin’. I’m not here to hurt anyone.”
“It’s okay, Mara. I know him,” Glen said.
“I gathered that,” she said. She lowered the candlestick to her side, but kept hold of it. Glen didn’t seem particularly thrilled or happy to see the man. He might know him, but she doubted they considered each other friends, judging by the tension emanating from both.
“I got news you need to hear,” Ben said, looking away from her and back to Glen.
“Say it then.”
“You’re place was raided tonight. Government men. Jigs up, buddy. The way they ransacked the place, it’s pretty clear they’re on to you. If I was you, I wouldn’t go home. Big black fancy looking van, kitted out with UV resistant...everything...has been sitting down the street for hours. Educated guess would be they don’t plan on leaving anytime soon.”
Glen closed his eyes, and Ben stepped back. “You got somewhere you can stay?”
“Not here,” Bed said. “Too many nosy people around these parts.”
“You can stay with me.” The words were out before Mara could really think about what she was offering. While Ben had been talking, Mara had closed the distance between her and Glen. She reached out and put her hand on his arm when he looked at her in surprise. “It’s safe. Hardly any neighbours.” She darted a look at Ben and chose to not say anymore. She wasn’t sure if he could be trusted or not. Better to stay vague.
Ben himself seemed uninterested. “Find somewhere and find it fast.” He looked behind them as if he could judge the light through the closed door. “Adios and good luck.” He started to turn around then stopped. “I’d say this makes us even, right?”
Glen’s eyes narrowed. A moment of silence followed before he grudgingly gave a slight nod. Ben grinned, a smile that did nothing to convey warmth or humour.
“Can’t anyone say I don’t pay my debts.” Ben tilted an imaginary hat in her direction, muttered something about it not being a pleasure, then he hurried out into the dwindling night.
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Aleea lives in her imagination most of the time. It's an interesting place to be... Occasionally she can be coaxed out to chat on Twitter, though she finds it akin to torture to stick to that absurd 140 character limit. (@Aleeab4u)