“Think Craig knows about the tunnel?” Truman asked as Mercy peered inside the shed.
“I think he would have locked this door,” she replied. She pulled out a tiny flashlight and lit up the space. Chopped wood was stacked from the concrete floor almost to the ceiling. Maneuvering room was tight. She squeezed through a narrow aisle, the wood catching her jacket and hair.
Mercy didn’t seem to care, so Truman firmly put all thoughts of hairy spider legs out of his brain and followed. A piece of wood jabbed his chest and he winced, catching his breath.
“I found it!”
He squeezed between a few more feet of wood and found her kneeling in a wider area, peering down into a large hole. A ladder stuck up out of the opening and vanished down into the darkness.
Good Lord. Pushing between the woodpiles had been claustrophobic enough. The sight of the black tunnel made him light-headed, and he looked away.
She shone her flashlight in the hole and cocked her head, listening carefully. “It’s quiet. I doubt he knows it exists.”
“Where do you think it opens up in the house?”
“I’ll guess in the basement. I can’t believe none of the crime scene techs or deputies reported a tunnel. It must be hidden well.” She tucked her flashlight under her arm and started down the ladder. She dropped the last two feet and squatted, pointing her flashlight down the shaft. “I’m impressed,” she said. “He’s supported it with wood beams. I’ll have to crawl, but it’s not the crumbling mess I expected.”
She eagerly looked up at Truman, but then her eyebrows narrowed. “You look ready to vomit.”
I feel ready to vomit.
“I’ll go,” she said, looking down the shaft again. “You can wait for backup. Let them know what we’re doing. You won’t be able to crawl if you’ve got broken ribs.”
Truman called in their plan as he dueled with his mental monsters. Close spaces had never been his friend.
But he wasn’t about to let her enter that house on her own. Rose’s screams peaked and waned and repeated; Mercy cringed each time.
He wasn’t going to hesitate this time. Keep moving.
Rose wasn’t going to die with him feet away, unable to make a decision.
He backed down the ladder, cursing that he’d left his flashlight in the SUV. His feet hit dirt, and he crouched to look down the passageway. Mercy was a few feet into the tunnel, her flashlight exposing the boards and dirt.
Every cell in his body screamed for him to get out.
He breathed deeply and focused on her. She was silhouetted by her light, but he saw the concern on her face.
“Are you sure about this? You don’t—”
“Stop talking about it.” He swallowed hard. “Seriously. Don’t talk about it. Makes it worse. Just push on.” He clamped his lips together.
She hesitated and then nodded. Turning, she started to crawl, holding her small flashlight in one hand.
Odors of nature’s decomposition and wet dirt assaulted him, constant reminders that he was underground. He crawled, keeping his eyes on Mercy’s feet. Think of nothing, think of nothing. His head bumped the top of the tunnel and dirt showered him.
Visions of a tunnel cave-in filled his brain.
He stopped and lowered his head to his hands, sucking in deep breaths.
“Truman? You okay?”
“Yes,” he forced out. “Coming.” He lifted his head and pushed forward, focusing on the soles of her boots. The lack of echo and background noise messed with his brain, making the walls feel closer than the eighteen inches on each side of him. The air pressure seemed to increase, and his lungs struggled to function. Sweat dripped on his hands.
Five things you can touch.
Dirt, rocks, my clothes, my face, a board.
Four things you can see.
He squinted in the dark. Her boots. Her ass. The outline of her head. The light.
He kept crawling.
Every time he moved his hand it felt as if a knife sliced through his ribs. He focused on the pain, welcoming the distraction. Broken ribs? Probably. Didn’t matter. All a doctor would do was tape him up and tell him to take it easy.
His left hand landed in squishy mud, and he recoiled. The rib pain sent an iron spike through his nerves and directly into his brain. He gasped.
“Keep going.” Don’t talk about it.
She moved on. He pictured the space between the house and the shed above ground. A hundred feet at the most. How far have we come? Seeking a diversion, he counted his hand movements, visualizing the numbers in his brain. His head whacked a board and stars lit up his vision.
“The ceiling’s lower here,” Mercy said.
No shit. His back scraped along the ceiling and he flexed his arms, dropping his upper body a few inches. The back of his belt caught on the same board, and a wave of panic rolled through him. He lowered to his stomach, inching forward on his elbows. How long can I do this?
Can I back out?
What if the end is barricaded?
How will we turn around?
He needed to stand; he needed to stretch his arms out to the sides; he needed to breathe. He took deeper breaths, his lungs fighting for oxygen. Every breath was insufficient. I’m suffocating.
“Truman! Get moving!”
He opened his eyes. Mercy had moved forward a good ten feet and lay on her side, looking back at him, her flashlight aimed at his eyes. “I can’t breathe.” He squeezed his eyes shut. Five things . . . dirt.
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