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Submitted by Steven ODell on 9 July 2007 - 12:03am.

Chapter 20

Some time later, Mose was awakened by what he thought to be scratching at the door of the cabin. It was not loud, but it had been enough to waken him. Yes, there it was again. It didn’t sound like anything moved by the wind, rubbing against the outside wall. Besides, there was no wind tonight…and nothing should be rubbing the door. He got up quietly, so as not to wake the others who were in various rooms of the cabin, and went to the door and listened for a moment. It was no mistake. It was real. Probably an animal trying to get in, he thought. Smells food, no doubt. He relaxed and opened the door to chase it away.

Bam! Mose went down without a sound, a crumpled heap at the doorway as a shadowy figure carrying a stout tree branch moved past him to gain entrance to the cabin. The intruder listened quietly for a moment and then followed the soft snoring across the room that led him to his next target.

Denise shifted and rolled over in bed. Her ribs hurt terribly and she roused a bit, remembering that Ron was here with her. He was actually in the next room, gallant man that he was, but he was close by and, bruised ribs or not, she felt better than she had felt in days, just knowing he was close. She thought she heard a dull thump from the front room, but with the door shut it was hard to be certain. Probably just one of the men trying to find the door to go use the outhouse, she thought. And with that she fell fitfully asleep again.

Two down and an unknown number to go, Ted thought to himself. It was going to be more difficult than he had hoped, but he would not return empty-handed. As he tiptoed toward the rooms on his right, a floorboard squawked loudly. He stood perfectly still and poised his club again, ready to strike the first one who came into range. It was Hunter, from the other side of the room. Hunter whispered, “Hey, who’s walking around at this time of night? You need a flashlight for the ‘john’?” The shadowy intruder moved swiftly to dispose of this new problem. Bam! And Hunter, too, joined the list of casualties. Three down.

Jon-Jon was suddenly awake. What had awakened him, he wasn’t sure. He listened intently for a moment, but heard only the heavy breathing coming from Ron. The poor guy was totally exhausted from the stress he had suffered the last few days. What was that? A scratching at the door of the bedroom. Ron slept on, undisturbed, but Jonathan did not like the sounds of this. Something was wrong. He had seen no cats, no dogs or any sign of them in the cabin and he’d had ample time to notice before they he had turned in for the night. Coupled with the fact that he was suddenly wide-awake, for seemingly no reason, he was instantly suspicious. Again came the light scratching. He got up quietly and walked toward the door as softly as he could. He turned the knob slowly and noted that the scratching stopped.

Standing behind the door, he pulled it gently toward himself and was suddenly hit with the full force of the door and the body that was propelling it inward, thrusting him across the bed and Ron. Ron abruptly came awake and was about to ask Jonathan to be more careful when he sensed more than saw the dark form that entered the doorway and raised a club over its head to strike Jon-Jon. “No!”, he cried out. He was still in the bed and had not had time to react and stand, being pinned by Jon-Jon’s weight across his legs. As he yelled, Jonathan attempted to roll to one side and as a result got a glancing blow to the head instead of the full force of the branch. Ron knew instinctively that this was Ted and he reached for the club and held as tightly as he could with the one hand that succeeded in catching it, giving Jonathan a second or two to pull himself off the bed and fall to the floor at the side. He groaned heavily as he moved in what seemed to Ron to be an agonizingly slow motion. He was hurt and temporarily dazed.

Ron’s hand was not strong enough to hold the branch and with Ted trying to shake and wrest it from his grasp, Ron could not easily place his other hand upon it to reinforce his grip. Ron had come to his knees on the bed at this point and was desperately attempting to control the club, which was shaking wildly in his now abraded hand. As the last bit of the branch slipped from his fingers, he threw himself to the floor alongside Jonathan and rolled under the other bed, which was raised high enough above the floor to allow him passage.

In the darkness, it took Ted a moment to comprehend what had happened and that was enough for Ron to emerge from the other side of the bed and jump to his feet. He instantly leaped onto the bed and launched himself at the threat before him, but Ted was capable and turned the blunt end of the branch toward Ron as he came, knocking the wind from him and doubling him over with the pain. As he prepared to finish the job, he heard a scuffle of feet from the front room and then it was silent. He braced himself for the entrance of another adversary, but it did not come to pass. Groans from outside the room told him he had better get to the purpose for which he had come. He ran out the bedroom door and turned abruptly to the left to cover the bedroom that Denise had to be in. The door was open and she was gone! The front door also was standing wide open, as he had left it. Blast!

It was going to be difficult to follow Denise in the dark, but Ted knew that she had the same disadvantages as he would have—and she was a woman, possessing nowhere near the strength and stamina that he had. He heard the dull thud and gentle crashing of feet through leaves and twigs, fleeing around the side of the cabin and he gave immediate chase. The still night air made it relatively easy to hear the snapping and rustling of the previous seasons’ forest debris that Denise was stomping through. It was likely that she was barefoot and would be slowed down by that handicap alone. The silhouettes of the trees were barely visible in the dark of the night and he cursed the fact that there was no moon to reveal the flight of his prey. Then, too, when he did catch her and return, it was certain that the others would have recovered and there would be no element of surprise the second time. To blazes with that woman! She‘ll pay dearly for this. Quite dearly, indeed.

He could no longer hear the sounds that were so prominent just seconds before. She had stopped. He, too, stopped and listened-long and hard. There was no movement at all. He could not even hear her breathing, which he was sure would be deep gasps of panic and exhaustion by now. He turned his head all about, re-orienting constantly to hear even the slightest murmur that should come. There was nothing. Impossible! She can’t just vanish. He realized that she was waiting, playing ‘possum, so-to-speak, in hopes he would give up and leave without her. It would not happen, he swore. But where was she hiding?

He waited several more minutes and began to hear the voices rousing behind him at the cabin. Still no sounds from Denise. He moved cautiously forward, attempting in his silence to get closer, if possible, to his quarry. She had not evaporated into thin air. There was no one who could do that. She was here somewhere, behind a tree or rock. He only had to find her, to hear her or see her and then he would again have her. Ted began to wonder if she was worth having back. Maybe he should just silence her for good and have done with it. She was proving to be far too much trouble to bother with.

Denise had heard the scuffle in the next room and without hesitation knew what was happening. She had jumped to her feet and nearly screamed from the pain of her protesting ribs. She knew that in the dark cabin Ted might get to her. He had proven that he had no limitations on his behavior and would quite probably kill anyone that stood in his way. She could not allow him to get her again and if she could get away and hide, then maybe he would be lured away from doing further harm to the others, so she ran from the bedroom as fast as she could, not hesitating for an instant, and saw the dimmest of light coming through the opened front door. With her feet fairly flying she made the door in a few steps and was sprinting around the side of the cabin. The crunch of the leaves and twigs beneath her feet would be a dead giveaway, she thought. Maybe with the emphasis on dead. Then she remembered the rock with the cavity in it that Ron had shown to her. If only she could find it in the dark.

There! She nearly ran into it in the dark, her hands out in front of her. She sidestepped her way around to the cavity and entered as quickly as she could. What if there are wild animals in it? She thought briefly. Preferable to the wild animal that is chasing me, she corrected herself. She pushed inside and into the farthest end, turning her face to the opening as she realized that Ted might be right behind her. She reached into her dress pocket and handled the screwdriver that she had found in the basement. Thank God she had dressed casually. Her heart was pounding and she felt it would leap from her chest. Denise put her cupped hands over her mouth and nose that the sucking sounds of her own breathing would not betray her. Her bare feet were aching from the run through the rough litter of the forest floor, likely bleeding, and her ribcage was screaming its protest at the need to overexert itself while still injured. She made a conscious and superhuman effort to smooth her breathing and calm her heartbeat.

Ted checked the trees he passed and made certain there was no fugitive concealed behind them. One by one, he disqualified them until he spotted the form of the large rock in front of him. The sounds of the men he had moments earlier overcome were now getting louder. They were now behind the cabin and he saw the beam of a flashlight waving wildly through the air and then settling with purpose, scanning the woods systematically in search of the two who had fled. Time was short. He must find her or he would soon be caught.

Ted worked his way around the rock formation as quietly as he could and was about three fourths of the way into the task when he found the opening in the face of it. It was indeed large enough for a grown woman to enter into it. He stood closer to cover any flight attempt and quietly, but firmly announced, “I know you are there. It is no use to hide. Come out now and you won’t be hurt.”

Denise could see his silhouette at the opening into the face of the rock. There was no escape for her as he blocked any path of retreat. Her breathing and heart had each settled to more respectable rates. She reached again into her pocket and produced the wooden handled tool that had accompanied her on her long journey. She could not go out, but if he came in, then she would show him how formidable a foe a woman could be. The chance did not come. He had waited a moment and then he had left. He must have been frightened off by the others coming to help her. When would she get any relief from this monster? In another moment Denise had extricated herself from the hole in the rock and was again standing in leaves.

The arm shot about her like a python, strangling her bruised and protesting ribs in its relentless grip. A hand closed across her mouth to prevent any warning screams for the would-be rescuers that were drawing nigh. Denise felt her eyes were as large as saucers as she swung the steel point swiftly and surely into the thigh she knew was behind her. Again and again she drove the screwdriver home until the hands that held her relinquished their grip and gave her the freedom she demanded. She screamed quickly to let the others know where she was. There were only seconds to enjoy her sovereignty and she knew Ted stood between her and those who sought her, still too far away to help. He now bellowed like the beast he was and again prepared to charge. In anguish, she turned away from her desired goal and fled deeper into the dense growth behind her.

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