Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: 24 Hours (01/27/11)
TITLE: A Daring Rescue
By Christine Long
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Stealth was his partner as he crawled over the log. On his feet, he stilled, crouching low. Only the whisper of the warm breeze reached his ears. He touched the light on his wrist watch, risking the tiny beam to know the time. Two hours left. Only two hours until the promised twenty-four expired. He straightened his knees but remained bent low. Weaving through the branches, he approached the darkened cabin. Stopping, he listened. Nothing. Puzzling. Sliding up to one of the low windows, he raised his eyes to search the interior. Black as night. Easing back into a crouching position, he reconstructed his plan.
The overhang above the door dripped from ice melting in the unseasonably warm air. It splashed on his head as he ducked under it. The cold droplet slipped through his cropped hair and slinked down his neck. He controlled the shiver it produced. Weapon in one hand, he touched the doorknob with the other. It turned ever so slowly. Barely breathing, he applied pressure, praying the hinges were oiled. It moved without a sound. His entrance to the dilapidated building accomplished, he squatted on the floor below the window. His stomach lurched at the odor in the room. No sounds, not even someone breathing in sleep. He needed light. Holding his weapon in front of him, he flipped the switch on the small beam mounted above the barrel, tensed for any reaction. None came. He slid the beam over the entire interior. No one. He straightened his body slowly, still prepared for an onslaught. He searched the room, step by step. She wasn’t here. Shining the beam back toward the door, he spotted what must have been the wood box to store wood for the fireplace. He approached it and flung open the lid. The stench he smelled earlier increased. He held his breath and shone the beam inside. A man, dead at least twenty-four hours. He slammed the lid closed and exited the building, taking deep breaths of fresh air.
Where was she? Obviously the dead man was one of theirs. But who killed him? Flicking the light on his watch told him he had less than ninety minutes to find her. Urgency gave flight to his feet. No longer needing to camouflage his movements, he crashed through the brush at top speed. Reaching his car, he whipped opened the driver’s door, sitting turning the ignition almost at the same time. Before he could throw it into gear, his cell phone buzzed. Pulling it out of his coat pocket, he punched the button and read the text. “Your time is up. Too late.”
“No!” He screamed at the phone. “I still have time! Twenty-four hours isn’t up yet!” An explosion from the direction of the cabin lit up the night sky. Relief washed through him. They didn’t know she wasn’t there. Why did they change their plans about the deadline? What was his next move?
“Are you finished yelling now?” He whirled toward the backseat, weapon drawn.
The woman climbed over the seat and flopped her head against the backrest, eyes closed. “I knew you’d come, but I realized they lied and weren’t going to give you twenty-four hours. They left one man to set the charges.” Tears slipped from under her eyelashes. “He untied me and I fought like I’ve never fought in my life.” She swallowed. “I shoved him back so hard he tripped and fell. He must have slammed his head against something because he never moved. I checked and he was dead. I dragged him to the wood box, hoisted him in, and ran for my life. I got lost so many times.” Tears slipped faster down her cheeks. She raised her head. “I prayed so hard for God to guide me. When I saw your car sitting here, I couldn’t believe my eyes.”
Curtis leaned over and gathered her in his arms. Sobs wracked her body for several minutes. He kissed away her tears and removed the ring from his pocket. Slipping it onto her finger, re raised her head to meet her eyes in the dim car lights.
“This has been the longest twenty-four hours of my life.”
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