A rough nudge on her shoulder yanked Karen from the darkness. She grimaced at the head-splitting pain that started from the back of her head all the way up to her temples. Another shove on her torso had her turning to one side. Karen fought a moan.

“Wake up!” a rough voice clashed against her eardrums and hands grabbed her shoulders, hauling her off the floor.

The swift motion tilted her balance and Karen felt a wave of nausea hit the back of her throat. She dry-heaved and the hands immediately released her. Landing hard on her knees, Karen yelped in pain and rolled onto her back. She could hear the thunderous beat of her pulse and it was hard to open her eyes. Was she dying?

Memories of Alice and Franklin’s covert conversation to have her killed flooded her thoughts. Two hands grabbed her by the shoulders, attempting to haul her off the ground.

Forcing her eyes open, she squinted at the scowling face of a white man hovering. His hands moved from her shoulders and wrapped around her neck. Karen choked in frustration as his fingers squeezed her windpipe. Death by suffocation was a horrible way to leave, and she had no intentions of dying yet!

Her trembling hands inched up to his arms and in a split second, she could only think of a quick prayer. God if you save me, I’ll surrender my plans to you. Please, save me.

His fingers only tightened and Karen’s hands started to drop, strength draining. Her eyes drooped, losing sight of the man’s angry face. She mourned her foolishness at coming here, of spending months away from her family or choosing not to eat her favorite desserts. She’d lived too carefully to die so early, with so many regrets.

To make things worse, Clement’s teasing smile appeared in her mind.

God, please… she said with her waning breath, eyes closing as she surrendered her last breath.

A blackbird fluttered in from outside and perched on an open shaft. It cooed twice and then dropped a warm sludge onto the man’s head.

He flinched and lifted one hand to the bird’s excretion sliding down his face. His gaze lifted and he cursed out the bird who swooped down toward him.

Air pushed through Karen’s mouth and into her lungs.

Cawing loud, the black bird fluttered its wings over Karen’s gasping for breath. Ducking down and shielding his face from the bird’s assault, the man cursed loud. The bird cawed even louder as it fluttered over to one wall, this time with the livid man in hot pursuit.

Karen slowly lifted to her elbows and assessed her surroundings. The grungy room was similar to one of the clinic rooms she’d been in with Petra and the drugged children. Her eyes widened, just realizing that the children were gone!

Bending forward, Karen placed her palms on the uneven cement floor and slowly pushed to to stand. Her balance was unsteady, her legs wobbly. Blood rushed to her head, her temple pounding painfully.

While the bird kept the man occupied, Karen straightened herself and sought an exit. Finding one on the opposite wall, Karen dragged herself toward it.

God please, just this once.

“You!” the man’s voice echoed in the empty room and Karen’s knees knocked, almost losing her balance.

Just then, a flock of birds rushed through the window and the man howled in frustration. Not waiting to see the birds attacking him, Karen hurried toward the door and grabbed the handle. It gave way under her hand and she shoved her shoulder against its weight to push it open. On weak and unsteady legs, Karen stumbled onto an open field.

Tall grass and overgrown bushes covered the field. Karen got down on her stomach and crawled to the nearest bush to hide and catch her breath. The incessant pain persisted. She sagged against the prickling bush and struggled to soften her gasps for air. Her neck muscles were still throbbing from being almost crushed.

Loud fluttering of bird wings flapping sounded like a helicopter blades as the flock of blackbirds exited the building through a broken window. The man growled as he stepped out through the open door, his feet crushing the twigs and grass as he walked out into the open field.

Karen’s mouth moved silently, praying he’d give up and leave.

But his footfall grew closer and closer. Her pulse quickened. She could not escape this way. She had to think of something else.

Scanning the space by her feet for a twig or a stick, her eyes moved over the opposite bush and fell on an empty glass bottle tucked between the root and the ground. Karen pressed her lips together and stretched out to grab it.

The man’s footfall halted and Karen paused, fearing he would hear the rustling of the bush. There was no doubt he would kill her for running away. Her fingers trembled, hovering over the glass bottle.

Move. Now.

The voice was so clear in her ears that she assumed she’d spoken it aloud. Terrified that he’d heard, Karen grabbed the bottle’s neck just as the man jumped in beside her. She yelped in surprise and rolled out of reach.

He lunged at her and Karen ducked, standing to her feet. The strength slowly returned, her feet more steady than before. As the man straightened to full height, Karen held the bottle behind her back.

Eyes more focused, she could clearly see he was a big man. Resembling one of those wrestlers Obadiah and Topher watched on television, his arms were the size of wooden logs and his fingers twice the size of hers. No wonder he could have squeezed the life out of her if not for that blessed black bird.

The man swiped at a face littered with bird excretion and tiny black feathers, the cause of his distraction.

Karen wasted no time and charged forward. As he blindly reached out, she ducked under his hand and in a split second, slammed the glass bottle against his temple.

It broke instantly and he jerked back, one foot jutted behind to regain his balance. Karen’s foot shoved his left knee, causing him to stumble. Not affording him time to react, she kicked his side.

He grunted and landed on his knees. One hand moved to the side of his temple that bled freely from the glass bottle while the other one braced the floor to hold him upright.

Adrenaline pumping through her veins, Karen charged at him as she screamed at the top of her lungs.

Ashon heard the scream and hurried out of the abandoned building, down the stairs and around the hedges toward the backyard. He scolded himself for leaving her, for not listening to his gut about letting a defenseless woman enter this building. He quickened his pace and upon reaching the broken gate, he stepped into the open field and squinted in the distance.

His eyes widened at the sight of two bodies lying in the field. He ran fast and hard toward them, the tall grass blades whipping against his legs.

Stumbling to his knees in front of the two bodies, Ashon grabbed the woman’s shoulders. “Missionary! Wake up!” His heart beat fast and hard against his ribs as he bent over to see if she was alive.

The woman groaned and turned her face to one side.

He gasped with relief and grabbed her shoulders, pulling her up.

She groaned again and he loosened his hold but kept her upright. Her face was without bruising and there was no blood on her.

“Missionary,” he whispered, glancing over at the man whose face was streaked greyish-white, black and blood-red. He looked unconscious, at least for now.

“Driver?” she rasped, pulling back his attention. Her eyes fluttered as though barely conscious.

He smiled, grateful she was alive and remembered him. “It’s Ashon and you’re a brave lady, Missionary.” With one more glance at the unconscious man beside them, he strengthened his hold on her. “Let’s get you out of here before he wakes. Can you stand?”

A muffled groan was Karen’s only response before she slouched against his shoulder.

<<Chapter 14 || Chapter 16>>