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By:T. R. Ragan

on the floor to loosen the bindings, then bent her chin into her chest and used her teeth to pull on the rope. It was working. The ropes loosened. She pulled her right hand free. Yes! The rest was easy.

She flipped over, sat up, then used her right hand to untie the ropes around her ankles. With no time to waste, she used her right arm to draw her left arm close to her chest, and coaxed her shoulder back into the joint. Relief followed.

She scrambled to her feet. Adrenaline kept her moving, kept her from passing out. A spider fell off of her head and landed on the floor in front of her. The eight-legged beast was big and hairy and brown. Barefoot, she used her toe to brush it aside, then frantically brushed bugs from her tangled hair. She'd been bit twice, maybe more.

Spiders were everywhere. They crept over the floor and around the pile of boxes. She held still and waited for the dizziness to pass.

Go, Lizzy. Get out of here.

Her leg nearly buckled on the first step, but she managed to cling to the wall to steady herself. She couldn't worry about injuries and pain. She needed to get away.

She peered through a slit in the blinds. Iron bars framed the outside of the window. She hobbled to the door, surprised to find it unlocked.

She listened. Somebody was talking. Voices. A television was on. Quietly, she stepped into a hallway lined with thick carpet. The house looked new: fresh paint, new carpet, nothing on the walls.

One step at a time. Quiet. Slow. Her gaze connected with the front door, an ordinary entry door with a peephole and a chain. Her heart beat triple time.

Oh, my God. Oh, my God. She wanted to run for the door but she refused to make any quick movements and attract unwanted attention. The chain on the door looked thick. Someone had bolted the chain with a heavy metal lock. Swallowing, she looked around the front room. A commercial for dog food was on the television. Her tongue felt thick and swollen. And then she saw him.

Holy Shit.

The maniac. The monster. Spiderman. Right there.

He was on the couch...asleep on the couch.

She would wake him if she tried to undo the lock and go through the front door. There had to be another door in the house. It didn't take her long to find one. A sliding glass door situated between the kitchen and a small informal dining area. She would escape and she would live to see another day.

She hobbled toward the door. And then she heard a child's cry...a long drawn out pitiful moan.

Boy? Girl? She had no idea. But someone else was in this house. She gnawed on her bottom lip. Outside, the sun was rising, lighting up the sky. From where she stood she could see a future. The dawn of a new day in reach...but there it was again.



Limping back to where she'd just come from, her gaze fell to the man on the couch. He hadn't moved. His eyes were closed. His neatly trimmed beard failed to hide a boyish face. His hair was dark brown and cut short around a big dopey looking ear; he had no gray. He was on his side. She could only see half of his face, enough to see a high cheekbone and a healthy tan. There it was again. The cry of a child. Not as loud this time. Why couldn't she pull her gaze away from the monster? He didn't look like a maniac. He looked like a businessman, someone she might pass on the street and say hello to. He looked "normal."

She forced herself to go. She hobbled down the carpeted hallway, once again ignoring the excruciating pain in her leg and the pounding in her head. Mostly, she ignored the fact that she was a fool. And damn. She was going to throw up.

Three doors. One was the spider room. The other two doors were shut. She took hold of the knob to her right and twisted it slowly, careful not to make any noise as she peeked inside. It was a guest room. A perfectly normal guestroom with a bed half covered with a patchwork quilt. There was a bedside table with a light and a handmade frilly looking lampshade, the kind her grandmother used to crochet. Nothing in this house made sense. The house of horrors with fresh paint and handmade quilts. She headed for the next door and the moment she opened it she smelled something musty and moldy.

She put a hand to her mouth at the horror laid out before her. The odor was sickening: rotted eggs and dead rodents. A bed took up most of the small room. Propped on the top of two of the four bedposts were skulls...not the kind of skulls she'd seen in the doctor's office. These skulls had stuff hanging off of them. Skin? Hair? Oh, God. She gagged.

A movement caught her attention-the source of the noise. There was a child on the floor. Thirteen? Fourteen? The kid's arms and legs were nothing but bones, bound and tied to a bedpost. It was hard to tell whether the child was a boy or a girl, but going solely by the silver necklace around the neck, she guessed female. Her light brown hair had been cut short at weird uneven angles with a blunt knife. She was so thin. Her face was pale, her brown eyes large and round, bulging. The girl's clothes were torn and bloodied.

Lizzy was pulling off ropes with her hands and loosening knots with her teeth before she even realized she'd moved toward the child. Tears streamed down Lizzy's face as she worked. The girl couldn't stand on her own, so Lizzy picked her up and ran out of the room and down the hall, grinding her teeth to stop from screaming out in agony.

She didn't stop to look to see if the man was still on the couch. She needed to get the hell out of there. She ran toward the sliding glass door where she had no choice but to set the girl down so she could use both hands to unlock and open the door. When she finally picked up the girl again and stepped outside, she was blinded by the bright light of the sun. The branches of a big oak reached out to her. Other than the tree branches, she couldn't see a thing.

At least not at first. It took a moment for Lizzy to see him.

He stood by the fence.


And the little girl in her arms must have seen him, too, because the strangest sounds were coming out of her mouth.

Chapter 3

Sacramento, California

Friday, February 12, 2010 6:06 PM

Lizzy stood front and center in the multi-purpose room at Ridgeview Elementary and pointed a finger at the young girl in the front row. "Heather, what's the first thing you should do if you think somebody is about to abduct you?"

"Draw attention to myself."

"Good. And what might be a good way to do that, Vicki?"

"Scream and kick."

"That's right." Eight kids had signed up for Lizzy's class tonight, all girls under the age of eighteen, but only six had actually shown up. Not bad for a Friday night. She'd been teaching kids how to protect themselves for the past ten years. She'd definitely had worse attendance, including a roomful of no-shows. It was easy to see who had been paying attention for the past hour and who had not. "How about you, Nicole? Come up to the front, please, and show us what you would do if somebody tried to take you against your will."

Everybody waited quietly until Nicole was standing in the front of the room.

Lizzy used her chin to gesture at Bob Stuckey, the local sheriff whose daughter was in attendance tonight. He had entered the classroom ten minutes ago. He, along with a few other parents, waited patiently for the class to end so they could take their daughters home.

"Mr. Stuckey, would you mind helping me out?"

He hesitated, then shrugged and headed toward the middle of the room where Nicole stood with both arms straight and stiff at her sides.

Lizzy gestured for Bob Stuckey to go ahead and wrap his big beefy arm around Nicole. Although Sheriff Stuckey was clearly uncomfortable putting his arm around the child's neck, and rightly