Macie raised her head as the door opened softly. Sweat, beaded
on her forehead and running into
her eyes, caught the hint of draft and sent a shiver through her body. Through the night she’d heard the drone of what she knew to be a furnace, forcing
heat through unseen rooms, building
it up as a palpable wall in her prison.
the candle light, she saw a tray, floating seemingly unaided across the room.
breakfast, Mrs. Stone.” Paige McKenzie was back.
can we go to the bathroom first?” Her voice croaked. It hurt to swallow, let alone talk.
other woman came close to Macie’s cot and helped her sit up. Macie smelled of perspiration and heat, mixed with the odor of canvas. Paige untied the
cords binding her wrists and Macie shook her hands trying to get blood circulating again. They repeated the trip they’d
taken the previous night and Paige left Macie’s hands free to eat the breakfast that sat on the tray.
sure and drink the milk. You need calcium.”
So, we did connect. “Thank you. And thank you for leaving the gag off...I frightened the rats away by yelling at them.”
don’t know what you’re talking about. If the gag wasn’t on, I forgot it.”
That’s enough. If you antagonize her, she’ll leave. “ Can you tell
me where I am? You said the electricity
was off, but I heard a furnace running all night.”
electricity is on upstairs. And in some of the other rooms down here. But, believe me, Mrs. Stone, the steps in these old buildings are steep, and the wood isn’t
in the best condition. Wandering
off in the dark wouldn’t be a smart thing to do, even if you did manage to get out of this room.”
These old buildings. Upstairs. So I’m in an old building...probably in the basement...maybe
next to the furnace room. And there are no windows...
now, my husband is looking for me. He’ll probably go to the police.”
blond woman studied Macie, her eyes reflecting the flickering candle. “The police won’t do anything for a couple of days. By that time, it’ll
isn’t there anything I can say to convince you to let me go?”
shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”
I know the truth. Honestly. I’m not going back to work at the clinic. I can’t. Don’t you understand that?”
if you can convince your Doctor Sorkin, we can all go home.”
caught her breath. Are they going to let me talk to someone? “What do you mean, convince Doctor Sorkin?”
“At , you are going to make a telephone call.”
mean to Doctor Sorkin? What am I supposed to say?”
done enough talking.” Paige tied Macie’s hands and held the cup for her to take one last sip of cold milk. “I have to put the tape back on.
When I come back, they‘ll be
with me.” The light wavered as it passed through the doorway and left Macie in darkness.
had no idea what time it was, though she figured it must be early. How much time before ? I’ve got
to think of a way to let them know...a code. God, please help us: my baby and me. Please,
Macie realized with a start that she was praying. She hadn’t done that for years.
Not since her grandmother had
taken her to the tiny Pentecostal church she attended. She remembered the building, cracked white stucco with a shape reminiscent of the Alamo. Inside,
the floors were red-carpeted. She thought she recalled two benches, called prayer altars, flanking the aisle in front. Macie
remembered fellowship dinners in the basement, where the floor was so old and brittle, the ladies’ high heels made little
holes in the linoleum. She remembered gold-starred attendance charts hung on uneven paint-chipped walls.
mostly, she remembered those prayer altars. Her Grandmother would lead her up the aisle at the end of the preaching. In her mind, Macie could hear the pianist playing
softly, and the murmur as twenty
or more people squeezed in , shoulder to shoulder, to pray. The altars were splotched, bleached in places by tears splashed on them . Macie would lay her head on those smooth wooden benches
and say her simple prayers. Then,
while the adults prayed on for an hour or more, she would curl up on the floor at her grandmother’s feet and fall asleep.
memories flooded her with the feelings they had evoked in the small child. The longing to belong to her grandmother’s God. The sadness at the stories
of Jesus dying on the cross, and
the excitement of the revelation of the empty tomb. She hadn’t been certain of the meaning of death back then, but it frightened her. She was glad Jesus
hadn’t stayed dead. She
didn’t want to die either. Not back then. Not now.
I think I know how You must have felt when they threatened your Son. I can’t imagine
how You suffered when they killed Him. All I want is to protect my child, and to see her born. I couldn’t give
up my baby...for anyone. I can’t do this, God. I need someone to tell me what to do. I can’t let them hurt my
baby. You let Your child die. Did You love me that much? Please, God.
ribbon of song wound through her mind. She closed her eyes against the darkness and gave her mind to the words.
“Jesus loves the little children, All the children of the world. Red and yellow,
black and white, They are precious in his sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.”
the music died from her thoughts, she opened her eyes again and saw a glow reflected on the ceiling. She turned her head and
gasped. A man of light—there was no other way to describe him—stood against the wall, staring at her. She shrank
back, and he smiled.
the music came again. No, Wait, that’s not inside my head. That’s real. Real music.
lay quiet and listened. Organ music. It was faint, but it didn’t sound like arecording. She pulled her head up, away from the canvas, and held her breath.
There was no doubt. I’m
in a church, and there’s someone up there. If I can just make them know I’m here...Mace rolled off the cot, hitting
her head on the cement floor. As the pain washed over her body, she wound her feet through the cot legs and pounded it against the wall. I’m here. Please,
Somebody. I’m here.
last, fatigue forced her to abandon the plan. Please, Phil. Please find me. Mom, don’t
get mad. I couldn’t find my gloves. Her mind lapsed into semi-consciousness. In the corner of the room, a dark-haired
toddler played with a cloth doll. Even without seeing her in the light, Macie knew it was Weslie. The little girl wore a sailor
dress, red and blue, with a white collar. Like the one I had when I was a baby. The one in the picture Mom keeps over her
bed. Be careful, Weslie. Don’t get your dress dirty. You know how Mommy hates
it when you stain your clothes. Phil sat at the table, a sad smile on his face.
Oh, Phil. I told Weslie you’d find us. We’ve got to hurry and get out of here. But Phil didn’t move.
He only smiled again. She tried to go to him, but the ropes held her down. Wait, it wasn’t ropes. She was lying in a
box. A coffin. In the corner, the toddler still played. Someone was sitting beside Phil. Maxine. Cutting Danish and pouring
coffee into plastic specimen bottles. And the baby was playing with a kitten. Macie twisted her neck to see the child. It
wasn’t a kitten. It was a rat. There were rats all around, their long tails whispering against the floor. NO. Get up. Macie jerked, and shook her head again, separating reality from delusions. GET UP. THE RATS ARE REAL. Macie worked at the wooden legs, but couldn’t right the cot. She struggled to
sit, leaning against the overturned frame, tears running down her cheeks. Even with the duct tape stretched across her mouth,
she tasted dirt. And she felt something move at her cramping feet. She filled the dark room with silent screams.
shook her head again against the last vision looming in the black room. But it didn’t fade. The shining man stayed,
growing even brighter.