All I can feel is dirt. Don’t think. Don’t think. Get out! Now!
He pushed to his hands and knees and his back slammed against the ceiling.
I need to stand up!
He tried to push off with his hands, but there was nowhere for his body to go. He dropped back to his stomach, his eyes still closed, and dug his elbows into the walls of the tunnel.
Pain shot through his hand and he opened his eyes to the glaring light of her flashlight two feet from his face. She’d brought her boot heel down on his hand.
“Crawl. Now! Or I’ll kick you in the face!” she screamed.
He lifted off his stomach, his eyes locked on her bright light. Her physical and mental shocks had worked.
“Touch my boot. Keep reaching for it as we crawl.” She moved forward, aiming the light ahead.
“Sing something,” she ordered.
“Anything.” She launched into the chorus of “Live Like You Were Dying” by Tim McGraw.
“On a bull named Fu Manchu . . . ,” he recited. His fingers briefly touched her boot before it moved forward. They fell into a rhythm with the lyrics and he kept his gaze on her boots. They quietly sang the song twice, hoarsely mouthing the words. He kept his mind blank, his arms and legs moving on autopilot. “I spent most of the next days looking at the X-rays—” She abruptly stopped singing.
Truman halted midlyric and looked past her.
A piece of plywood blocked their way.
“Did one of the supports fall?” Truman asked, as terror flared through his body again.
“It’s the end.”
Mercy shoved on the board and it didn’t budge. Panic rocked through her.
This is how Truman felt through every foot of that tunnel.
She put all her strength into driving the heel of her hand at the lower corner of the board, and it moved.
Thank you, Lord.
She did it again and the board started to fall. She caught it and wiggled forward on her stomach, easing the board into a larger space. Fresh air rushed through the tunnel and Truman sighed in relief. He’d terrified her a few minutes ago, and she felt bad for screaming at him, but he’d needed to be shocked. She hadn’t known how to get him out of the tunnel, but then she’d remembered how Rose would sing to a skittish horse or sheep. The animal would calm, and its focus would zero in on the singer. It was the only idea she’d had, and it’d worked.
Hang on, Rose. We’re so close.
She gently let the board slide out of her hands to the floor a few feet below the tunnel opening and picked up her flashlight, scanning the room in front of her. The tunnel emptied into the basement. Stacks of bins and boxes crowded the low-ceilinged space. Elation ran through her. They’d made it into the house and might be only steps away from finding Rose.
“Mercy?” Truman pleaded behind her.
She hustled the rest of the way out of the tunnel and turned to give him a hand. His face and shirt collar were drenched with sweat.
“How are your ribs?” she asked as he awkwardly stood.
“Is that a good thing?”
“It was.” He wiped his forehead. “Thank you. I didn’t think I’d make it.”
“You shouldn’t have tried it.”
“Doesn’t matter. Let’s find your sister.”
“Listen.” Mercy froze. “Do you hear that?”
“It sounds like two men yelling at each other.”
They worked their way between the bins to the basement stairs and ascended the steps, wincing at every squeak. Mercy glanced at her phone. “No service.”
They reached the door to the inside of the house, a faint light shining through the crack at the bottom, and listened. One voice was in the house and the other sounded as if it came from outdoors.
“That sounds like Levi!” Shock took her breath.
“How would he know to come here?”
“He probably heard from Eddie that we were going to check out Toby’s story. If he’d left my parents’ house at that point, he would have beat any law enforcement who responded when I called later for backup.”
Or did he already know Craig would be here?
She gripped her weapon and slowly opened the door. It swung out into an area near the boarded-up back door of the home. Mercy swallowed hard, remembering her first tour of the old house. And the fly-covered body in the bed upstairs.
“This is none of your business, Levi!” Craig shouted from the floor above them.
It is Levi.
“It’s all over, Craig,” her brother yelled from outside. “You need to let Rose go.”
“Your brother has to know we’re here somewhere,” Truman whispered. “He couldn’t miss my Tahoe parked on the road.”
“Fuck off, Levi!”
“I’m calling the police!”
“Go ahead! Your other sister already ran off with her tail between her legs. I’m sure she’s rounding up every cop in the county to come here.”
“You haven’t done anything yet! Let Rose go before they have a reason to come in shooting.”
Craig laughed. “You think they don’t know I killed those preppers? They’re going to fry me.”
“They don’t have proof,” Levi argued. “But if you hurt Rose, they’ll definitely know. Release her before it gets worse for you.”
Craig hasn’t said Rose is dead. Mercy drew strength from that. Rose’s silence was almost worse than her screams. Almost.
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