Scritch


Why is he moving his lips? Maggie wondered. Bash seemed to be mumbling to himself. Either he was crazier than she imagined or… he was talking to someone she couldn’t see!

Maggie felt stunned. She watched a moment longer, just to be certain. And then she was. Bash was talking to someone standing outside her field of view. He probably expected me to run. With two people at the end of the narrow street she knew she wouldn’t get out that way either. She turned reluctantly and peered into the gloomy interior. Maybe there was a back door or window. She felt her heart slowly sink as she examined the space. The building might once have been a large open warehouse, but now it was a death trap. Sagging beams and rafters pressed close to the floor, and several walls leaned on the resulting pile blocking off much of the interior. The result was hive-like, with openings surrounded by twisted iron, shattered bricks, and jagged junks of carbonized wood leading into the interior. She would have to find a way through to the other side, or at least far enough in to hide. And she’d have to do it without bringing the whole thing down on her head.

“Runnin girlll …” came the whispered call from outside.

Maggie felt goosebumps at the sound. The moon was rising and she could see Bash walking slowly, turning his head right and left. He was whistling too. Not a whistle exactly, she thought, more like a nightbird… she froze at the thought. Nightbirds could fly in total darkness thanks to the sounds they made. What if Bash could do that? Could he see her? She shuddered.

Bash was trying to spook her into running. She could see seven silhouettes forming a loose arc as they methodically checked each building, slowly tightening on her location. The lean shape of a woman twirling a long pole stepped into the space next to Bash. Neckgrabber, Maggie thought, as she saw the loop of rope at the end of the pole. Her heart was pounding so hard that her body rocked with each beat. Go! Turning swiftly Maggie looked at the various openings leading into the tangled heap behind her and finally picked one that might be too small for her pursuers. I hope it goes back far enough, she thought and began to crawl, carefully sliding her head and shoulders beneath the ragged edge.

Sharp bits of stone and debris grated under her hands and knees as she slid forward, painful despite the cold which numbed her. Ash and snow disturbed by her passage drifted slowly through the light filtering through the spaces above. Her breathing sounded loud in the tight confines. She pushed forward, driven by the knowledge of what he wanted. I’ll cut my own neck if it comes to it. She’d seen a man do it once, sliding a blade across the side of another man’s neck. The curved half-blade she kept at her side was only as long as her hand, but it would do the job. Maggie turned carefully to look behind her and could no longer see the opening. Random moonlight, poked through the oddly shaped patches of light her only assurance that she was actually moving forward through the blackness. Squeezing Kai’s pouch, she continued as quietly as she could.

A sharp crack sounded in the room and Maggie froze. Someone’s inside! A heavy thud sounded to her right and the mass above her head trembled and shook pushing lightly against her back. Maggie squeaked involuntarily as a cascade of debris peppered her back and something sifted pressing down on her shoulder. She tried desperately to pull forward but she was stuck. Her fingers covered her mouth as a voice called out loudly.

“She’s in here!”

Maggie stopped moving at the sound of her pursuers entering the room. She was more terrified than she had ever been. Her eyes blurred with tears as she reached for her knife and pulled it forward until she could see the carvings and broken tip dimply reflected. She remembered the man she had seen killed. He had died without screaming. It … it will only hurt a little, she thought. She offered a prayer to The Builder as she place the cold blade against her neck… and then three startling things happened in rapid succession.

She heard yelling and her pursuers running back into the street; a pair of glowing eyes appeared in the darkened space ahead of her, and someone behind her grabbed her ankle and pulled.

Maggie screamed.