Chapter 4

Audrey slipped into Ava’s room in the middle of the night. On soft steps, she crept close to the bed, touching her sister’s shoulder gently while whispering her name.

“Wha-what’s going on?” Ava said with a start. With the light from the hallway casting Audrey in shadow, Ava wasn’t sure who was standing over her at first.

“It’s okay, it’s me. I don’t have much time to explain, but you need to get dressed and come with me right now.”

“Is it a storm?” Ava replied, sitting straighter in the bed. She looked out the window expecting to see the windows lashed with rain, but only heard the soft chirp of crickets.

“No, please, you have to hurry,” her sister insisted, pulling her to her feet.

In a daze, Ava did as she was told, throwing on a pair of cutoff shorts and a hooded sweatshirt. She followed Audrey, wondering why her sister was dressed in all black. It wasn’t until they reached the idling pickup that she thought to press her for more information.

“Seriously, what’s going on?” she asked, grabbing Audrey by the arm.

She met her eye, her expression both terrified and excited. “It’s Adam. We have a window where we might be able to get him.”

Ava’s heart leapt. “Are you serious? Tonight?”

Audrey nodded, giving her a brief hug. “Yup, but we really do have to hurry.” She jumped into the cab of the truck, scooted to the middle and waved Ava in.

With trembling hands, Ava pulled her hair back and forced herself awake. It felt like a dream, the idea that they’d be able to rescue Adam that night on such short notice. She was too excited and happy about it to be upset at Audrey for keeping it from her.

As they backed up, she noticed movement in the bed of the truck. “Who’s back there?”

“Dee and Sarah,” Audrey replied looking out the windshield.

“Sarah?” she said, squinting out the back.

“Yeah, don’t you remember? She was there when we came and got you.”

“She was in the other truck that night,” Dave cut in. “She wouldn’t have seen her. Anyway, she’s Dee’s sister.”

They rode in relative silence, the quiet only broken by Audrey explaining the extraction process. The two sisters knew the layout of the compound intimately, so it was quick to describe. What was meant to put Ava’s mind at ease only made her feel more nervous. She couldn’t remember much from the night she’d been rescued… the whole thing was largely a blur. When Audrey explained it, the whole plan sounded crazy.

Before long, Dave pulled the truck along a dirt road Ava vaguely recognized and cut the lights. He stayed in the car while the others jumped out.

Dee pulled Ava into a big hug and whispered, “We’re gonna make this right tonight, don’t you worry, doll.” Ava stiffly hugged her back, glancing over at her sister. She was tall, curvy, and blonde like her sister.

“Can we just get this over with?” Sarah grumbled, crossing her arms and glaring at Ava. “This place gives me the creeps. Freaky nutjobs livin’ in the middle of nowhere…”

The group split into two, Ava with Dee, Audrey with Sarah. Carefully but quickly they made their way through the forest, coming at the house from two separate directions. The cult used isolation as protection, along with a heavy artillery of firepower. Anyone who knew about their existence in the area left them alone, knowing any sign of trespassing would be met with a rifle blast.

Ava came up on the clearing she recognized as her childhood home. Her heart squeezed with a weird sense of nostalgia and hatred, like she was glad to be back but couldn’t stand the idea that she felt any emotional attachment to the place to begin with.

She turned off the flashlight and whispered to Dee. “I don’t see Dad’s truck, but that doesn’t mean…”

“The information we got should be good enough. Come on.”

They stayed low, slinking between shadows as they drew closer to the house. The plan was that the other pair would make their way into the house through the front door while Ava and Dee crept into the back. Slowly, quietly, Dee opened the back door and stepped inside.

Ava paused, listening to the quiet forest she knew so well. Instead of following, she stepped back into the darkness, following the curve of the house to Adam’s bedroom. I want to be there in case he wakes up and hears it all. He’ll be so scared…

She found the window open and crawled inside, taking a moment for her eyes to adjust to the darkness. And there he was… sound asleep in his bed, almost right where she’d left him. Ava’s eyes swam with tears at the memory of having to leave without him, the guilt she’d felt for weeks. Is he going to hate me?

Quietly, she knelt at the side of his bed and gently touched his shoulder. He mumbled in his sleep, something that sounded like, “Mom?”

Ava’s throat choked up but she pushed on. “Adam, it’s me. We came back for you. I came back, we can go.”

“Avey?” he whispered. “You’ve… where are you?”

She took his hand and held it to her face, like she’d done so many times. “I’m right here. Audrey’s here too, but in the other room. We came as soon as we heard Dad was gone.”

He sat up in bed, groping around in the darkness to find her shoulder. In so many ways, Ava thought his blindness had affected her more than him. “Dad’s still here. He was supposed to go to Uncle Jeff’s but decided to go in the morning.”

“Oh no…” Ava managed to mutter.

There was a crash out in the kitchen, feminine voices swearing. The lights all came on at once, a switch their dad had installed next to his bed to ward off intruders.

“Who the hell is there?” her dad bellowed.

Ava immediately began trembling, suddenly feeling like she was eleven again and about to get whipped.

“Avey, you have to get out of here,” Adam whispered. “I won’t move fast enough.”

“I can carry you on my back!” she insisted, trying to pull him from the bed. Heavy footsteps pounded their way down the hall as her father ran to investigate, probably with the sawed off shotgun in his hand.

“Please, save yourself. Dad’ll kill you if he catches you here,” he pleaded. Ava brushed the hair from his eyes, too long since she’d given it a cut. “Take this, just in case,” he said pulling a hunting knife from his bedside table and holding it out.

“Audrey!” her dad bellowed from the kitchen, loud enough Ava jumped.

“I’ll come back. I promise. I’m so sorry,” Ava cried.

Adam touched her cheek once more, now covered in tears. “I know. I’ll be okay, just go!”

Ava crawled out of the window and pressed herself against the side of the house, heart pounding in her chest. Every part of her said not to leave Adam behind, but there was no way they’d get him out and through the forest with their Dad on their heels. She inched around the side, shouting and shattering glass in the house breaking the silence. She gripped the knife in her hand defensively.

The back door burst open as she turned the corner, the three women breaking towards the edge of the forest in a dead sprint. Ava paused, held back, and decided to go around the other side. She knew her father would chase them as long as he could.

“I love you,” she whispered as she passed Adam’s bedroom window again. She couldn’t be sure if he was even still in the room, but she didn’t want to leave without saying it.

Before running into the forest herself, she slid the knife into each of the tires on her dad’s pickup, knowing it would take him forever to get the tires replaced. At least this way, when we come back, we’ll know he’s here and he can’t actually chase us in the truck. We could pull right up to the house and take Adam out the front door.

She tucked the sheathed knife into the waistband of her shorts and jogged into the forest, a plan already formulating in her head. I’ll save you, Adam. I promise. We’ll get you out of here.

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