The whistling cry of the boiling kettle always made Sara think of a fast-racing train, blowing steam in the old-fashioned way, madly speeding onwards like a vengeful ghost.
The young woman resented her brain for over-thinking. Clear from morphine, it was surprising how fast her thoughts were, shooting every split second, her mind overheating, saturated, making sleep impossible at night, reminding Sara of why she’d started doing drugs in the first place. They’d certainly been a short-cut for inner peace, but Sara was done with that now. No more short-cuts. No more easy.
Sara poured half of the content of the kettle in a large coffee mug where Stephen Colbert’s smiling face shimmered from the porcelain. The mug had been her ex’s. Sara was more of a John Oliver girl herself. Late night shows were a good distraction and always efficient to fill hopelessly sleepless nights. Her smoldering mug in hand, Sara made her way to the bedroom, where she’d finish her latest read before dutifully trying to go to sleep like a good girl.
Though the lack of sleep sometimes drove in unwelcome thoughts, Sara wasn’t altogether unhappy with herself. Six months sober was something to celebrate. The cabin had been a good idea – her father’s idea, actually, and she didn’t doubt that he’d sent her there because it was the one place he expected she wouldn’t be found by reporters hungering to take her picture. But a good idea, all the same. Outside her window, the smell coming from the woods reminded her of childhood trips into the forest and picnics with Bruce Bennett, nice, grandfatherly Bruce, who’d always have time for the things her father didn’t despite also being a politician.
The cabin had belonged to her family for three generations. She’d spent a few weeks there every year since she was a child, and more recently she’d been there with Tom, but he wasn’t a safe topic for late-night thoughts. Maybe her father would have thought twice about sending her there if he’d known that the last time she’d been to the cabin, Tom had drunk cheap tequila from her belly button and they’d spent hours spread on the living room carpet, by the fireside, making love, high as kites, looking straight into the ceiling and seeing stars. Come to think of it, Sara decided he would have probably sent her anyway – what mattered was that she stopped being a distraction to his potential electorate.
She knew him too well not to know that when her father had said it’d be a good idea for her to take a few months of rest, away from the city, what he truly meant was: disappear.
And Sara couldn’t argue that this cabin was a good place to do exactly that. Maybe the best place in the world.
The sound of breaking glass was what woke her, though she didn’t immediately realize it wasn’t all part of her nightmare. Soaked with icy dew, bare but for a black satin lounging robe and a pair of panties, the blanket clinging to her moist skin. For a few seconds, Sara was incapable of telling what had woken her. She knew she’d been dreaming about Tom. Sleep had always been scarce even before she started drugs, but since the nightmares had made it that much worse.
Sara lay entirely still, waiting in the dark, her heart pumping at a feverish rate. The silence of the night and beam of moonlight shining from the window gave her a short-lived feeling of serenity.
Then more noises were heard and this time there could be no mistake made. Footsteps sounded in the living room, clear and ominous as an ogre rapping on the door. Shrill unpleasant notes when their shoes stepped on grinding pieces of broken glass.
“You sure it’s inhabited?” The voice was male, deep and hoarse, coming through distinctly enough from downstairs.
“It sure looks inhabited to me.”
Incredible, how her incapacity to see the men made it plausible to Sara’s freshly wakened mind that they may all be ten feet tall, huge, sharp-clawed, domineering boogeymen plucked from childhood fears she’d believed were long forgotten.
“It’s too early for people to be on holiday,” another voice remarked.
Not two but three men, so far, and soon enough a fourth made himself heard, “Ought to check upstairs, just to be sure. We should be safe here for a while.”
This much did a lot to shake Sara from her momentary paralysis. Each movement brutal, heavy, as if her body were made of granite. She got on her feet, clutching the blanket to her body. She’d fallen asleep above the bedcovers, so it might look like the bed hadn’t been slept in. In any case, there was no time to smoothen any telltale crease. Footsteps could already be heard up the winding staircase.
Before she could think of whether there would be a better place to hide or if she might have made it to the window, panic overcame all rational thoughts, and Sara plunged to the ground, rolled under the bed, concealing the blanket still damp with perspiration. Adrenalin left no place even for expected frightened thoughts. In her chest, her heart was hammering like an animal trying to claw its way out of a cage.
Soon, the door of her bedroom opened and she could see black sneakers and the beginning of a blue inmate jumpsuit. Her breath in her throat felt like something solid, a rock that she might choke on. The man stood still for a moment then started pacing the room, each footstep a distinct thump against the wooden flooring.
“Anything, Mike?” A man shouted from downstairs.
“Doesn’t look like it,” he answered. He no longer sounded like a fairytale giant but like a young man, maybe only thirty years old. “Check the other rooms, just in case.”
He lingered only a few more minutes, still planted on his feet, sweeping the room with his eyes no doubt. This was no thorough search, Sara realized. The man didn’t open the closet which was big enough for a grown woman to hide in, didn’t check under the bed – sweet lord, the most obvious of all hiding places, what had she been thinking?
The young man walked away, calm, confident footsteps, leaving the door open as he made his way to the corridor. Before he disappeared down the stairs, Sara got a glimpse of a tall, blue-clad outline, and the briefest flash of a shaved head.
Jesus. Her fingers planted in the wooden boards, as if something from inside her were about to jump out of her skin.
This wasn’t time for wasted thoughts. Sara had to be fast, very fast, draw conclusions and figure out the best thing to do. What came as a certainty was that the men didn’t expect anyone to be in the house. Of course they didn’t. That’s why they hadn’t done a proper search. Who would visit a cabin in the woods before the holiday season? It was the middle of April.
But the invaders could only be deluded for so long. Soon enough, they’d find evidence that someone had been living here for a while – fresh food in the fridge, plates and mugs in the dishwasher. Sara had to get away now, not ten, not five minutes later. Who knew how long it would be before she was discovered and found herself outnumbered?
Struggling against the fearful urge that told her to stay hidden, tucked under that bed no matter what, Sara rolled out from beneath the bed, leaving the blanket behind. The floorboards felt rough against her bare knees, but she didn’t dare get on her feet in case the flooring should squeak under her weight – it was an old cabin. They’d had it entirely remade fifteen years ago, but she didn’t find it safe to rely on that.
From her kneeling position, Sara cast a glance at the window which was such a tempting way out. Before the man came up to check the bedroom, panic had blinded her enough so that making her way through the small frame seemed plausible. But it was too small, of course. She’d only alert the intruders giving it a try.
The thoughts darting through her mind were quick as thunderbolt, not all of them made sense yet it came to Sara as a genuine breath of relief – thank God I’m not high right now.
Only a few seconds had elapsed by the time Sara came up with a plan. The bathroom upstairs had a bigger window than her bedroom. She could squeeze through, she was tall but skinny, had been slender as a girl but drugs had hollowed her out like a vampire. Even six months into her recovery, she couldn’t be over a hundred and twenty. The bathroom window would do – it was her only option, so it would have to do.
On her hands and knees, Sara started slowly crawling out of the bedroom, expecting each movement to cause a clamor, expecting the men would be rushing upstairs and their footsteps would make a soul-crushing symphony, like the galloping horses of death – maybe that’s what the men were, not loose inmates, but the four horsemen of the Apocalypse.
But the flooring made no noise as Sara scrambled to the bathroom. From the corridor, she caught snatches of their conversation – one of the men seemed to have gone to the kitchen. It could only be a few minutes at most, before they realized something was off.
“Got to get rid of him,” one of the men said, matter-of-factly. “The whole idea was for him to get us a plane, he hasn’t delivered. He’s outlived his purpose.”
“We have to wait, Linc. It can’t be right now.”
“I have to take your brother’s side on this one. Abruzzi’s a maniac. I mean, T-Bag was a scumbag – but what he did to his hand? Could either of you have done that in cold blood? Not me, papi.”
Sara didn’t give what she heard any thought. Her sole focus was on getting to the bathroom, prying her way out of the window and running, very far from here. It didn’t matter that the cabin was completely remote, that she wasn’t carrying a phone, that she wasn’t even wearing shoes or proper clothes. April had been rather warm so far, she wouldn’t freeze. She’d walk, even if it took her days to come across a living soul. Then she’d call the police. It wouldn’t be comfortable and it might even become life-threatening if she got lost in the woods, but it’d still be a great improvement to her current situation.
Finally, Sara was able to slither inside the bathroom, the tiling cool against her skin. There, she safely got on her feet, surprised at how nimbly her body followed her instructions, when her mind was rioting chaos.
“You guys!” Someone shouted from downstairs – from the kitchen. “There’s something not right here. Double-check the rest of the cabin.”
“What’d you mean?”
“Come and see.”
Sara didn’t wait long enough to find out what evidence had given her away. Pushing the window as far up as it could go – it came up in such a soundless, perfect way – she hoisted herself up and slithered through the small frame without a second thought. There was no pause, not even a split-second hesitation when she wondered if it was high enough for her to break a bone, if the untrimmed flowerbeds below would cushion her fall. In the end, she landed before she had time for any of these questions, feet first, like a pro, except pro’s legs don’t give way immediately after they’ve hit the ground. In Sara’s head, someone shouted in surprise. She hoped it didn’t actually come through but there was no way of telling, and no time for it anyhow.
A hot, sharp wave of pain spread from Sara’s left ankle, it must have taken most of the weight of the landing, but there was no nauseating flash as for broken bones. True, it hadn’t occurred to Sara she might have to limp her way to the nearest town, but desperate times, desperate measures, and yet more desperate results.
Getting on her feet was challenging enough, her brain was all pins and needles. She made it ten, maybe twelve steps before a storm of four furious men tumbled outside, and before she had time to get any further, the one that ran the fastest tackled her to the ground.
His weight on her was terror in its crudest state, could not have been worse if the earth had crumbled beneath her and hell had opened its mouth and swallowed her.
“Stop,” the man kept repeating, and it took Sara a moment to become aware of her efforts to push him off her.
His hands on her wrists, digging into the soft grass below them. The ground was dewy, wet against her legs. She could tell her robe was hanging open, the man above her inadvertently covering her bare breasts and stomach.
For a moment, she thought her own fear was reflected in the young man’s blue eyes. Then she heard the sound of his ragged breathing, as she stopped struggling, and she knew he was afraid, too. His face was vaguely familiar, and all of a sudden, everything came together, their conversation, their strange attire.
“You’re the Fox River eight.” She said before she could help it. The man who was pinning her down to the ground was called Michael Scofield. She remembered his face best because, a couple of days ago, when their prison break was all over the news, Sara had spoken with an old girlfriend who’d joked at how for a convict, the young armed-robbery one wasn’t too hard on the eyes, and she wouldn’t mind if he stopped by her house looking for shelter.
How absurd that Sara had been laughing at this forty-eight hours ago, and now she was staring into that cold blue-eyed face.
“Jesus,” one of the man said. Sara couldn’t tell which one. “Mike – what are we going to do?”
“Well, there aren’t a great deal of options, fellows,” the man who answered sounded older. Abruzzi. His name came back to her. “Come to think of it, I’ve got it slimmed down to two. Either I slit the girl’s throat right here and now – either we find ourselves with a plateful of trouble.”
The dilemma hung in the air – was it for minutes, seconds? – their silence restoring the peaceful nightly music of cricket song and fireflies.
At least, if I die, my father will hate himself for the rest of his life.
That was as optimistic as Sara was going to get tonight.