On my sixteenth birthday, Mom drove to the local bakery to pick up a cake and never came home. My life
was instantly turned upside down, and I still haven’t recovered. The minister from church told me she died
instantly when the train slammed into her stalled car on the railroad tracks.

I never knew my dad. Mom didn’t either. She woke one day on a deserted beach and had no recollection
of how she had gotten there or who she was. She couldn’t remember anything about her life prior to that
moment. Doctors told her she had this rare thing called focal retrograde amnesia. And she was two
months pregnant─with me.

After Mom’s funeral, I was ordered to live with a woman I’d never met who’d sent documentation to the
local authorities, claiming to be Mom’s sister and my only living relative.

Losing Mom made me want to curl up into a ball and hide from the world forever. And now to be forced to
leave the only home I ever knew seemed doubly unfair. In desperate times I always turned to Mom for
guidance. If she were here, I knew what she’d tell me. I needed to stop feeling sorry for myself, and
believe I was headed for a grand adventure. So that’s what I did.

I packed up some things, then I spent days and nights on buses traveling from the place I grew up in on
the West Coast to another hick town in the mountains of Pennsylvania. When I got there the Greyhound
bumped over railroad tracks and stopped in front of a rundown wooden building so the last two
passengers could get off─me and some old guy.

I stepped into the night mist ahead of the scruffy-looking man.

“Gabriella.”

I turned to the sound. The unsmiling, heavyset woman reminded me of a bag lady I’d seen in a movie
once as she stood up from a bench in front of the dimly lit two-story.

“Gabriella Raines,” she said, giving emphasis to my first name.

I nodded. “Ella. I go by Ella. Are you my aunt Betty?”

“The girl travels light,” came from the guy who’d followed me off the bus.

In the short time the woman and I exchanged words, the bus driver had pulled my suitcase from the
outside storage compartment, put it down on the broken sidewalk, and was already back on the bus
driving away.

The old guy clearly had spoken to the bag lady, not to me. Eighty degrees on this humid summer night
and goose bumps dotted my bare arms. I stood tall in an attempt to stop shivering. “Who are you people?”

“Why this here’s your aunt Betty.”

The sound of his voice gave me the willies since he had shared a bus with me for thousands of miles
without speaking to me until now.

His beady dark eyes steadied on mine, and a surge of heat shot through my veins.

“Suppose you’re my uncle.”

“Get her suitcase, Clarence. The car’s ‘round back.”

I pulled my cell phone from my pocket to call for help. “I’m not going anywhere with you two.”

Bag lady whirled around, snatched the phone from my fingers and threw it into the street. “Useless gadget
for where you’re goin’.” My mouth opened to protest, then closed when she glared straight into my eyes.

“If you don’t want to end up like your mother, you’ll do as I say. Now let’s go.”

She lowered her piercing gaze and swung away from me.

I thought about taking off in the opposite direction, but didn’t know where that would lead me. Then there
was the thought of what she would do to me if she caught me. Not wanting to die, I followed her around
the building.

Clarence tossed my suitcase into the back of a shiny black Escalade and climbed in behind the wheel.
Aunt Betty opened the rear door and motioned for me to get in. I only hesitated long enough for her eyes
to fix on mine.

I ducked inside and glanced back at her. “You don’t look anything like my mom. She was a hottie.”
Bewildering to me, I had super fast reflexes for a change. Otherwise, my foot would’ve gotten smashed
when she slammed the door shut.

She climbed up on the front passenger seat and pulled on her seatbelt. I fastened mine as the vehicle
shot into the quiet street, door locks automatically snapping down.

I thought it unlikely the two of them had the means to own a car like the one we were riding in. If the
vehicle was stolen there was a chance the police were alerted and we’d be pulled over, and I’d be saved
from whatever horrors those two had in store for me.

The possibility of rescue allowed me to breathe a little easier as the luxury ride glided over the railroad
tracks and sped out of town into the night. “Either of you want to tell me where you’re taking me?”

Clarence looked back at me. “It’s a surprise.” Headlights behind us lit up his face and his creepy smile
brought on the shivers again. His smile disappeared and he shifted around in his seat. “We got company.”

He barely had the words out when I was thrown back against the seat as he floored the gas pedal.
I peered over my shoulder, squinting from the glare of headlights closing in on us. “Who’s after us?”

Neither gave me an answer as the sleek automobile picked up speed, skidding as it rounded a sharp
curve in the country road. I glanced over my shoulder again into the bright headlights. When I shifted
back around, we were headed straight for the side of a mountain. I screeched, hunched down, and closed
my eyes the instant before impact.

No impact.

I opened my eyes and we were traveling at the same high speed. Only we were inside the mountain,
going downhill fast.

Blinding red lights shot at us from the road up ahead. I screamed again, my eyes wide open this time.

***

Voices. One vibrated against me. “I’ve got her.”

My eyelids were too heavy to open. The thumping in my ears told me I was being carried at a rapid speed.
A musky scent filled my nostrils. I tried to open my eyes again. I got a glimpse of sparkling gold eyes, then
I lost consciousness.

Dreaming of the time Mom and her boyfriend took us camping. The snapping and cracking sound pulled
me toward consciousness. More voices, women whispering. Another whiff of wood burning and I sensed I
was not dreaming.

My eyelids fought against my first attempt at opening them.

There was more whispering and moaning. I attempted to shift to my side and realized the moans were
coming from me. Pain everywhere when I moved. I tried to focus. When I did, I took a double take.

Copyright (c) Debra Lee
Excerpt