Bitten Under Fire(6)

By: Heather Long

The lack of attention also meant they didn’t deliver any food, either. The water helped, but the heat, the lack of food, and the stress of waiting to see when or if they would come through the door wore at her. The men had made no demands she understood, nor had they sent her back out to dig her grave.

Had they forgotten about them? Were they doomed to die in the hot little building, victims of starvation? The average adult could survive roughly three weeks without food. It wouldn’t be pretty, but they could make. Dehydration was a far greater danger. She’d boiled more water before they’d taken their rest. It would be cool enough to drink when Collin woke.

Stroking his hair lightly, she leaned her head against the wall. It couldn’t have been more than a day since they’d been taken. Yet every minute passed with what felt like the ache of years. Louder voices shouted right outside the hut and she had to fight the tension coiling in her spine.

Please don’t come in here. Please don’t come in here…

When the sounds drifted away, she released a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding.

“Bianca?” The scared little tremble drifted to her ears and she paused midstroke against his hair.

“It’s okay, kiddo. They’re gone.” I hope.

“I want to go home,” he said in a voice so small and desperate, her heart broke.

“Me, too.” Some people embraced the mistaken belief they had to make light of a bad situation, especially when it involved kids. Her experience taught her otherwise. “I don’t know what’s going to happen, Collin. I promise you, I will do everything I can to get us out of here.”

“You mean like a jailbreak?”

Her eyes, having long since adjusted to the ugly gloom inside their sweltering hothouse, read the spark of hope in his eyes. “Maybe.”

It might be a bad idea, but when one ran out of good ideas or options it was better to go with the bad ones. Maybe she could distract their captors long enough for Collin to make a run for the jungle—but would he be any safer there?

Not knowing where they were or how far he would have to travel, alone, didn’t make it an easy decision or one she wanted to really contemplate.

At least not yet.

“I can help.” So solemn. So sincere. So sweet.

“I know you can, but resting is the best thing we can do. We need lots more water, and we need to be ready to run.” If they went, it could take a hell of a long time to reach civilization.

“Then you should rest, too.”

She needed to add stubborn to her list of attributes for the kid. “I’ll try. For now, you go to sleep.”

He closed his eyes obediently. Fear was toxic. It invaded the body like a virus, storming the system and overwhelming it. His exhaustion reflected the toll stress had taken on him. Their little fire flickered, guttering against the hot breeze drifting down the copper pipe. It was suffocating inside the hut, but despite the temperature increase the fire seemed to help with the musty stench.

Or maybe she was just getting used to it. She had during the recovery and rebuild in Thailand after the tsunami where she’d pitched in to help while her parents worked in the field hospital. It was the first time she’d realized that helping others was what she wanted to do with her life. Closing her eyes, she concentrated on regulating her breathing. If she could calm her mind, she could think the problem through. Failing that, maybe she could get some sleep.

What she’d told Collin was true. If they were to survive, they needed to rest. The torn skin on her knee, the blisters on her hand, the cracked and bleeding nails courtesy of breaking wood on the bed played a symphony of hurts through her system.

A sudden scream beyond the cabin jerked her awake. Groggily, she blinked and went still. Collin was still curled against her lap, the fire was out, and what light had leaked in through the cracks before was gone. The room was pitch black, and she wasn’t sure if she’d heard a scream or dreamed it…

Another scream, this one more horrifying than the first. Collin jerked up and released a choked sob. “Bianca?”

“I’m here,” she said, wrapping her arms around him. Letting him burrow into her embrace, she kept her gaze focused in the direction of the door. A third scream, then the gunfire started. Bullets sprayed across the ceiling, the wood shutters over one of the windows splintering.

Bianca rolled over the top of Collin. “Stay down.”

The boy didn’t argue. More terrified shrieks shredded the night. Then another shuttered window came apart, and the door began to break apart under the frequent bursts of gunfire. More bullets slammed into the brick walls, then abruptly cut off.