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Katy lay on her side in the bed, breathing deeply, pretending to be asleep. Desperation clawed at her. She needed to get out. Tonight was the night.
She heard Joel’s footsteps approach, and she sensed him at the side of the bed checking on her. She kept her breathing deep and regular.
Apparently satisfied, Joel headed to the bathroom.
Katy didn’t move. It could be a test. If he thought she was pretending, he would make sure it was impossible to leave. She would never get out. If he got angry, he might not even let her live.
She heard the shower being turned on. Still, she didn’t move.
Finally, she heard the shower door close. She opened one eye. Nothing.
Pushing herself up slowly, she glanced around. The bathroom door was closed.
Now was probably the best chance she would ever have.
Trembling, her heart pounding in her chest, she got up, dressed as quickly as she could, and ran downstairs. She would only have a few minutes. This was the first time she had seen Joel leave the door key on the kitchen counter. He was usually not that careless, always keeping the key carefully hidden. Until tonight. And if she were caught, he would never be that careless again.
Taking the key, she carefully unlocked the cabin door, stepped out into the cold night air, and then closed the door quietly behind her. She held her breath and listened. She could still hear the shower in the bathroom upstairs.
Terrified and unsure, she froze for a few seconds, and then she ran.
Surrounded by trees, deep in the woods, she did not know which way to go. Having been brought there blindfolded a week earlier, she had no idea where she was. Joel had driven her to this area and then walked her along a dirt path to the cabin before removing the blindfold. She did not know where his car was or which way was the way out. She just knew she had to keep moving, and hopefully she would find a road or someone who could help.
Although it was hard to see in the dark, she rushed forward. A small amount of light from the half-moon filtered through the canopy of leaves above, but not much reached the ground. A few times, she tripped on roots or rocks in the dirt, but she caught herself and continued. She desperately needed to get far enough away that he wouldn’t find her. She hoped that was possible.
She knew without a doubt Joel would come looking for her once he found her gone. And if he found her, he would be enraged and would very likely kill her. Memories of his abuse over the past few days nudged at her mind, but she quickly pushed them aside. She had to stay focused.
After running and stumbling a few times, she stopped to catch her breath for a few minutes. Her fingers absently checked her pocket. Was it still there? Her fingers closed around a small gold butterfly, given to her by her Aunt May before she died. “Always believe in yourself,” her aunt had told her. “You are stronger than you think and you know what’s right for you.” Her aunt had placed the gold butterfly in her hand and closed her fingers around it. “I believe in you,” she had said. “You need to believe in you, too.”
Katy blinked back tears at the memory. She hoped the gold butterfly would give her strength and help keep her safe.
She resumed walking, being more careful now. A short time later, she heard a shout. Joel’s voice. “Katy? Where are you?” She gasped and then tried to calm down. She stayed still and silent. “I’m gonna find you, Katy. You won’t get away. You know that, right?”
She knew she had to move discreetly and quietly. She took a few steps and a twig under her foot snapped. She froze and listened. It did not seem like he heard it.
“Katy? Come on, you won’t survive out here at night. You’re gonna regret this. Where are you?”
His voice sounded farther away. Or maybe it was just her fear and she wasn’t hearing well. She was not sure. She waited a few minutes. After not hearing anything more, she continued walking, going slower and being more cautious.
After what seemed like a couple hours, she shivered, the cold air settling deeper into her. She rubbed her arms, trying to get warmer. Would she survive a night out in the cold? Where would she find shelter? There was no safety in the woods, and the night was definitely getting colder.
She kept moving. She wished someone could help her. But no one knew she was gone or where she was, so no one would even be looking for her.
She knew she had briefly mentioned to her friend Jennifer that she was seeing Joel this weekend and that she was not happy with how he was treating her and was considering breaking up with him. But she did not speak to her friend every day, so Jennifer might not even realize she was missing. And even if she did, she wouldn’t know where she had been taken. Katy didn’t even know where she was herself. She clearly was on her own.
Needing to warm up, she rubbed her arms again. She had no idea Joel was capable of anything like this. And she had no idea what to do. A sense of hopelessness settled in her chest and she wanted to cry.
Finally, shivering with the cold and exhaustion, she sat down at the base of a tree. Not even sure she would survive the night, she couldn’t stop the tears from falling as she stifled a sob. Had it been a mistake to leave? Would she have been safer to stay in the warm cabin in a soft bed?
Warmer, yes. Safer, no. Her life had ended when Joel had kidnapped her and brought her there by force. And then the abuse she had endured at his hands. She rubbed her cheek where he had slapped her earlier that afternoon. No, she had to get away, no matter what, even if she died trying.
Sounds of the woods filled the air. Strange sounds that spooked her. Scampering of tiny paws, buzzing of insects, rustling of leaves … she had no idea what was out there. She hoped she would make it through the night. But even if she did, then what? How would she get out?
She fingered the small gold butterfly in her pocket. Yes, she needed to believe in herself. She needed to believe that she would be okay.
After another hour, fatigue overtook her, and she lightly dozed on and off throughout the night. As the weak light of a dawning sunrise began to light up the area, she startled herself awake. She slowly stretched and then stood up, her body cold, stiff, and achy.
Looking around, she tried to get her bearings. The ground was level where she was, but it looked like it sloped downward a few yards farther away. As she carefully listened, she heard the sound of rushing water. A stream? A river? She wasn’t sure. But the sound gave her something to head toward.
After Katy walked a short distance, a swiftly flowing river became visible. She realized her mouth was exceedingly dry, and at least she could get some water to drink.
Stepping carefully, she eased her way down to the river. Being more exposed there, she knew she would need to be fast and then get back to the safety of the woods. After glancing around to make sure she was alone, she carefully bent forward, cupped some water in her hands, and sipped it. It was icy cold, but it refreshed her and gave her energy. She drank more and then gently washed her face with the frigid water.
Her nerves getting to her, she quickly moved back to where the trees gave her cover and more security, and she sat down against a tree to think. Should she follow the river? And if so, in which direction? Where was the way out?
The sound of rustling in the leaves behind her startled her, and she tensed. Was that Joel? Had he found her? Her heart pounded and terror flooded her body as she pulled her knees up, trying to make herself smaller and less of a target.
A metallic jingling sound reached her. What was that? She gasped and then remained silent and unmoving. A dog suddenly came into view — a beautiful, silky, golden retriever stood in front of her, wagging its tail. It barked once and then sat down in front of her. As she stared at the dog, wondering where it came from, two men appeared behind the dog. “Good dog, Bailey,” one of the men called out.
The other man looked at Katy. “Are you Katy?”
She nodded. “Yes.” Her voice sounded hoarse.
“Good. We’ve been looking for you. I’m Kent, and this is Brad. We’ve had a search party scouring the area for the past two days.” He gestured at her. “Are you okay? Are you injured?”
“I’m okay. Just cold, exhausted, and hungry.” She slowly stood up, realizing she also was weak. “How did you know to look for me? Or where to find me?”
“Your friend Jennifer reported you missing, and she gave us enough information that we researched your boyfriend, discovered a cabin belonging to his family, and suspected you might be in this area. We are a volunteer search team working with the sheriff’s office. Bailey here,” he added, gesturing at the dog, “is well trained and effective at finding missing people.”
Katy nodded. “But my boyfriend Joel … he …”
“The deputy sheriffs are up at the cabin right now looking for him.”
“Joel might be out trying to find me.” She glanced around at the woods. “I snuck out of the cabin last night.” She shuddered as she thought about it.
Kent glanced around and then took a few steps closer. “Let’s get you out of here. Can you walk okay?”
“Yes, I think so.”
“Good. Follow me. Stay close.”
Katy followed Kent, while Brad and Bailey brought up the rear, Brad keeping watch behind her. She began to feel safer and couldn’t wait to get out of the woods. Maybe she would be safe after all.
“There you are!” Joel’s booming voice cut through the air. “She’s coming with me,” he yelled, coming toward them, a large pipe in his hands, which he jabbed in the air threateningly.
Kent raised his arms in a calming gesture. “Hey, put the pipe down, we just want to talk.”
“No talk. She’s my girl, and she’s coming back with me.”
Katy whimpered, shook her head, and took a few steps back.
“Come on,” Kent continued. “Just put it down.”
“No!” Joel switched the pipe to his left hand and hastily raised a weapon with his right hand. He waved it back and forth toward the group.
“Down, Bailey,” Brad said to the dog.
Kent stepped farther away from the group. “Hey, no need for weapons. We just want to talk.”
Joel seemed determined. “Katy, come here,” he demanded.
Katy shook her head. “No, Joel. I’m not going anywhere with you.”
Joel stepped forward aggressively, aiming the gun at Katy.
Bailey gave one loud bark.
Joel turned his attention to the dog, his weapon beginning to move toward the dog.
Kent, now a few steps closer to Joel, tossed a rock at Joel. Joel lurched and stepped back. His hand came up, the gun fired, and Katy shrieked.
Taking advantage of the distraction, Kent dove at Joel, tackling him to the ground. They wrestled for a couple of minutes, and then Kent pinned him to the ground. He twisted Joel’s hand, causing Joel to grunt and loosen his grip on the gun. Kent grabbed Joel’s gun and tossed it out of reach.
Brad got out his radio and called the deputy sheriffs. “We got them — we have both Joel and Katy. But we need some help here. Katy is safe and Joel is restrained. He was armed.” He gave coordinates and then clicked off. He turned to his partner. “They’re on the way.” He then looked around. “Anyone hurt? Where did that bullet go?”
Terror and shock ran through Katy. Shaking, she glanced around. Then she noticed a red streak on her left arm and she gasped, her eyes widening as she stared at it. “I … I …”
Brad peered at her arm. “Yep, the bullet grazed your arm. It’s not deep, but it should get cleaned and looked at.”
Katy nodded numbly as she looked at her arm and then stared at Joel pinned underneath Kent. He had shot her! How could she have ever dated him at all? Horror gripped her as she realized how close that was and how much worse it easily could have been.
She turned to Brad. “He would have killed me.”
Brad nodded. “That is very likely. I’m really glad you’re okay.” He gestured at his partner. “Kent here is the best partner. He’s ex-military and knows what he’s doing. I’m very grateful he’s on our side and one of the good guys. This definitely could have been a lot worse.” He looked up at the sound of voices and movement. “Good. Here are the deputy sheriffs.”
The taller of the two deputy sheriffs immediately went to Kent and Joel. The deputy sheriff took out handcuffs and slapped them on Joel’s wrists. “Do you have any other weapons on you?” he asked Joel.
“None of your business,” Joel responded.
The deputy sheriff went through Joel’s pockets, carefully removing a switchblade knife. He dropped it into a plastic bag his shorter partner was holding out toward him. He then brought Joel to a standing position. “What were you trying to do here?”
Joel remained quiet.
The shorter officer and the rescue crew spoke quietly among themselves for a few minutes, and Katy glanced at them and then stared at her injured arm, unable to say a word.
The taller officer held onto Joel while the shorter one approached Katy. “We will need to get a statement from you and ask you a few questions. Can you come down to the station?”
“Yes, sure.” She had many questions to ask them, but couldn’t yet form the words.
“Good. Then we’ll get that arm looked at and taken care of.” He turned to his partner. “Let’s pick up that gun over there, look for the bullet, and then we need to close off this entire area. Let’s get it all roped off — this is now a crime scene.” He radioed dispatch, and then the two deputy sheriffs walked Joel through the woods toward their vehicle as the taller one read Joel his rights.
“Come on,” Kent said to Katy. “Let’s get you out of here.”
Feeling shaky and woozy, Katy walked with Kent and Brad through the woods toward their vehicle. Thoughts swirled in her head, overwhelming her. What had happened? She couldn’t quite grasp it. Looking at the blood on her arm, she felt dizzy and her legs got wobbly and slowly gave out. A nauseating weakness overtook her as everything turned black.
A short time later, she woke up, groggy and confused. Where was she? Suddenly she remembered and her eyes flew open. “Joel!”
Brad was wrapping a bandage around her arm. “Hey, you’re awake. Good. Don’t worry, you’re safe.” Brad watched her as she sat up in the back seat of their vehicle. “You feeling okay?”
Katy nodded. “Yes, just a bit weak. I’m sorry.”
He handed her a bottle of water. “Nothing to apologize for. I cleaned the wound and you’re all bandaged up. But I’d like to get you to a hospital to be checked over and make sure everything is good.”
“Okay.” She sipped the water and then looked up at Brad. “And Joel?”
“He’s in custody at the sheriff’s office, with multiple charges pending.”
Katy let out a long, slow breath. “Thank you.” She let Brad secure the seatbelt around her. Bailey was buckled into the seat next to her, and he wagged his tail when she looked at him.
Brad then climbed into the front passenger seat and Kent started the vehicle and pulled out of the parking area.
As the vehicle moved forward, Katy swallowed hard. She was finally free of him. Memories of the past week flooded her, increasing her anxiety, as her arm throbbed. She pushed those thoughts aside and tried to relax.
She vowed to trust her instincts about people from now on. She was grateful Jennifer had called authorities. Her friend had warned her about Joel, but she didn’t listen. She needed to listen to her friend more and trust her as well as herself. And it would be a while before she dated anyone again.
She slowly played with the small gold butterfly in her pocket. “Thank you, Aunt May,” she whispered. “Yes, I will believe in myself.”
She leaned her head back against the headrest, closed her eyes, and sighed. It would take a while to recover, but she was finally safe. And free.
Copyright © 2022 Lynn Miclea. All Rights Reserved.
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