Good morning and welcome to this week’s edition of Tuesday Tales. If you are a new visitor, this is a closed blog hop where select Amazon bestselling authors offer you a look at their current works in process. Each scene is based on either a word or a picture cue. For most of us, we are working on the same bit of writing. I started this particular story back in June when I returned from my Alaskan cruise holiday.
My novel is called Hello Again and it’s a paranormal/romance/suspense. I had the cover designed early since these characters and I are going to be together for some time and I needed to fix them firmly in my mind. This week’s word prompt is MIXED.
Here we go!
Charley paced the room, unable to relax. She’d never been a fan of small spaces, preferring to use the stairs to the elevator whenever she could. The battery-powered lantern bathed the room in a soft glow, but she couldn’t help worrying about what might be lurking in the corners or under the heavily laden shelving units. She gripped the dog tags hanging around her neck, searching for the comfort the gesture usually brought.
“Relax, girl,” Shirley said. “You’re wearing me out just watching you.” She’d settled herself into one of the folding chairs with rockers attached to its legs, and moved back and forth gently.
Angry voices shouted outside, the words muffled, but Charley shivered at the violence in them.
“What are they doing out there?” she asked wringing her hands nervously.
“My guess is they’re fighting amongst themselves trying to figure out how to get inside,” Shirley chuckled and then coughed.
Charley frowned. This wasn’t the first time it had happened, and she wondered about the air quality down here.
“I’m surprised we can still hear them,” she said.
“The sound’s coming through the vent.” Shirley indicated a grill high up on the wall that Charley hadn’t noticed.
“Where does that come out?” she asked. “Is the opening large enough for them to crawl through?”
“It comes out on the other side of the garden, but unless they’re the size of prairie dogs, they aren’t getting in here that way,” she chuckled.
“What if they block it off?”
“For Pete’s sake, Charley, stop worrying. The opening is hidden by the pipes for the septic system, and unless they plan to come in through the toilets, they aren’t likely to consider that as a way in,” Shirley ended and coughed again.
This time the spasm was longer, and Charley handed her a bottle of water. Shirley drank deeply.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
“I’m fine—a little tired, worked hard today—and the humidity out there earlier plays havoc with my breathing.”
“Is that why you decided to hide instead of using the rifle to scare them off like you did last time?”
“It wouldn’t have worked again. The first time they were here, I had surprise on my side, and they didn’t know I was an old woman. Now, they do. These men have killed recently, and once the bloodlust takes over, they won’t scare as easily as they did before.”
Charley’s stomach clenched. “Killed? As in people? How do you know that?”
“The spirits told me. That’s why we needed to come down here. If they get their hands on you…”
Gulping, terrified by the image of being gang raped or worse, Charley nodded.
“They’ll be dealt with when the time is right. For now, we must be patient and wait.”
“I’ve never been very patient,” Charley admitted nervously, the idea of gang brutality weakening her.
Gunfire split the air, and she yelped
“What was that?”
“Most likely they’re shooting at the doors and windows trying to shatter the wood so they can open them and get inside. They’re probably hoping to frighten us at the same time.”
“Well, it’s working,” Charley mumbled, trying hard not to panic.
Shirley shrugged. “They won’t succeed, wi’cin. I promise you that.” She shook her head. “I’ll have to get those holes patched before winter comes.”
Silence filled the root cellar, and despite her mixed feelings about the situation, Charley tried to relax and opened the other lawn chair, prepared to sit and wait as Shirley had told her to. She was down no more than a minute when a loud boom shook the earth, loosening the dirt in the floor joists, and raining dust down on them.
“What was that? An explosion?” she shrieked.
“That was thunder?”
“Yes, lightning probably hit one of the willows down by the creek,” Shirley answered matter-of-factly. “The storm will be here shortly.”
Unable to sit still, Charley limped back and forth, convinced the root cellar was shrinking with each circuit she made. It was warm down here, and despite knowing her fear was illogical since the space was vented, her concern about the air quality increased.
Thunder boomed again and again, the rumbles getting closer and closer together. How long had they been down here? Fifteen minutes? Thirty? More? Was the pipe large enough to account for the carbon dioxide exchange? The light from the lantern seemed dimmer, too. If it went out, being down here in the dark would be like being buried alive. Her heartbeat increased and her chest tightened uncomfortably.
Shirley sat in her rocking lawn chair, moving back and forth, chanting softly, and Charley was loathe to disturb what seemed to be her prayers. If the elderly seer was communicating with the spirits, she hoped to hell she was asking for help because they certainly needed it. She was on the verge of doing some praying of her own, something she’d rarely done since Mike’s death, still angry at God for letting it happen in the first place. She took a deep breath, hoping to calm herself, and coughed.
“Do you smell that?” she asked, worry now bordering on panic. Below ground as they were, if the house was on fire, then they’d die either from suffocation or from the heat of the fire burning above them and then through the floor. They were trapped like rats. Coming down here had not been the safest, wisest thing to do. What had Shirley and her spirits been thinking?
“Shirley, did you hear me? I smell smoke,” she spoke again when woman didn’t respond.
“I know. So do I. They’ve turned all the animals loose and set fire to the sty.”
Charley gasped. “What if they set fire to the house?”
“They won’t do that, but they are trying to smoke us out,” she said, coughing heavily once more. “I told you, nothing is going to happen to you. The spirits will protect you.”
But they won’t protect her, Charlie realized. She thought of what Shirley had said about leaving and not coming back, and the fear for her own safety vanished.
She pulled out the small flashlight and turned it on, scanning the shelves and corners, looking for something to cover their noses. Once they started inhaling more smoke, they wouldn’t be able to get enough oxygen to survive. Her own lungs worked well, but Shirley’s were strained. Smoke put out too much carbon monoxide which inhibited the body’s ability to filter the oxygen out of the air and release its own carbon dioxide. If the smoke were heavy enough, they might pass out or worse.
The thought of dying like this terrified her. She’d survived the tornadoes only to end up in this mess. It wasn’t right. A few days ago, she might’ve been happy to just lie down and die, but not now. Her fury at the injustice of it all calmed her.
“We can’t stay in here,” she said, limping over to the shelf on the far wall where she found a pile of old, clean rags. These could be used to cover their mouths and noses, and if they wet them, it would help too, but for how long. “We have to get out before we run out of air.”
Shirley shook her head. “Leaving now is out of the question.” Her words, slow and measured, increased Charley’s fear. “The smoke is much heavier above us.”
“But we’ll die in here. The spirits are wrong.”
Shirley coughed several times before the spasm subsided.
“Of course they aren’t. Think, Charley. What does smoke do?”
“It rises,” she said after a few moments. “But obviously some of it is coming in here.”
“Yes, from that ventilation pipe over there. “Wet the cloths and use them to cover the grid. Once the fire takes hold, the smoke won’t hover at ground level, and we’ll be fine.”
“But won’t that cut off our oxygen as well?”
“No, child. This room isn’t airtight. We’ll be fine. Bill’s on his way. He’ll be here soon.”
A new fear filled her. What could one man do against killers?
With a great deal of difficulty, Charley managed to climb on the worktable and block off the vent with the wet cloths. Despite her fears, the smoke hadn’t gotten any thicker, but it had a decidedly unpleasant aroma to it. Shirley’s breathing seemed more labored than before. She handed the elderly woman the bottle of water.
“Here, have a another drink,” she coaxed.
Shirley obeyed. “You’ve got a good soul, Charley. That’s why the spirits want to see you happy again. We’ll both be fine. Don’t worry. I’m just going to close my eyes and rest. It’s been a long day.”
Panic filled Charley. If Shirley died, what would she do?
I know–did it to you again, but … please drop by and visit all the Tuesday Tales.