Dominic thought for a few seconds. “I think there might be a small door. More like a crawl space or root cellar. Let’s check it out.”
I opened the basement door, and Dominic turned on a flashlight. “Allison?” I called in a loud whisper. “Sweetie, it’s mommy.”
She didn’t answer, but I heard a shuffling noise off to the right. Dominic swung the beam of light toward the sound. More shuffling, but no visual. My heart started racing. Something wasn’t right.
I grabbed Dominic’s hand and moved the light along the floor. In the back corner, behind a floor shelf, the toe of a large boot peeked out. That was not my little girl. I kept the light moving so the intruder wouldn’t know we’d seen him. There was no sign of Allison. I hoped she was on the other side of the stairs, and not in the hands of the enemy.
Tugging his sleeve, I pulled Dominic’s ear next to my mouth. My voice was no louder than a breath as I whispered, “I’ll look for Allison on the other side.” He nodded. Handing me the flashlight, he used the beam to illuminate his hands as he gestured that he would go after the man hiding in the back. While I didn’t want him to risk the danger that surely waited in the dark corner, Allison came first. I did not intend to leave her alone and terrified.
I left Dominic standing in the dark and crept to the other side of the basement with the flashlight. I didn’t call her name. She wouldn’t answer, and I couldn’t be sure there wasn’t yet another man on this side of the stairs.
I moved slow, letting the flashlight trace the perimeter of the room. I looked under the decrepit furniture that had been stored for who knew how long. In my search, I discovered the small door Dominic had mentioned. I was blocked by the edge of a dresser, but I thought I’d be able to wriggle it open enough to squeeze Allison and myself through without making too much noise.
If I found her.
Then, way back in the farthest corner, I saw her small hand on the floor. It disappeared when the light hit it. Creeping closer, I acknowledged that I still couldn’t talk to her, so I used the light to let her know I was coming. I stopped in front of her hiding place, crouched down, and put my hand where she could see it.
When she grabbed my fingers and squeezed, my heart about burst. I tucked my head into the tight spot she had found and smiled at her. Indicating she should keep quiet, I gestured for her to come out.
Once she was free, I wrapped her in my arms and shed silent tears of joy and gratitude. My little angel was safe. Losing Michael had been hard. Both times. But when I thought my baby might be in the hands of my enemy. . . I couldn’t live without her. She was what I lived for everyday.
Loud shuffling sounds came from the other side, and I paused, listening. I heard a grunt, then the sounds of struggling. It was time to leave. Using the sounds of the skirmish to hide our escape, I opened the door and Allison and I squeezed through.
We were under a small overhang that shielded us from the view of anyone hiding nearby. Of course, it would also hide them from us.
“Are you okay?” I whispered to her.
She nodded in response. “Someone came through the outside door,” she whispered back.
I squeezed her to me. “I know, baby.”
The crack of gunfire from inside the basement spooked us. Allison yelped, and my hand flew to her mouth to mute her cry.
“Okay, Allison. Listen carefully. I want you to crawl as fast as you can through the woods. Go over that rise, and stay on the other side of that boulder.” I pointed to the hill that ran alongside the cabin and a massive boulder embedded in it. “Once you get over, head to the cave. Stay low, and zig zag. Hide behind whatever you can. Use the gun if you have to.” I hugged her to me again. “I’ll come find you. I promise.” Pressing a hard kiss on her forehead, I said, “Now go. I love you.”
She took off through the trees, low to the ground like she’d been playing army her whole life. She did well with using small shrubs and fat trees to hide her body from the view of the cabin. Once she disappeared behind the boulder, I knew I wouldn’t be able to see her anymore.
I waited for a couple minutes after she slipped behind the rock, then I turned to reenter the cabin and whatever waited in the dark of the basement.