The Obsession Page 3

She froze, shorts around her knees, bare butt inches off the ground, her lips pressed tight to hold back her breath.

She saw him in the next flash of lightning, and he looked wild to her—his close-cropped hair almost white in the storm light, his eyes so dark, and his teeth showing in a fierce grin.

Seeing him, half expecting him to throw back his head and howl like a wolf, she felt her heart thudding with the first true fear she’d ever known.

When he rubbed himself, down there, she felt her cheeks go hot as fire. Then he closed the door, the quick slam of it echoing. He shot the bolt home—a hard, scraping sound that made her shiver. Her legs trembled from holding the awkward position while he tossed layers of old leaves over the door.

He stood a moment more—and oh, the lightning sizzled now—and played the beam of his light over the door. The backwash of it threw his face into relief so she saw only the hard edges, and the light, close-cropped hair made it look like a skull, eyes dark, soulless hollows.

He looked around, and for one terrible moment she feared he looked right at her. This man, she knew into her bones, would hurt her, would use hands and fists on her like the father who worked to provide security for his family never had.

With a helpless whimper in her throat, she thought: Please, Daddy. Please.

But he turned away, and with long, sure strides, went back the way he’d come.

She didn’t move a trembling muscle until she heard nothing but the night song, and the first stirring of the wind. The storm was rolling in, but her father was gone.

She hiked up her shorts and straightened, rubbing the pins and needles out of her legs.

No moon now, and all sense of adventure had dropped into a terrible dread.

But her eyes had adjusted enough for her to pick her way back to the leaf-covered door. She saw it only because she knew it was there.

She could hear her own breath now, wisping away on the swirl of wind. Cool air, but now she wanted warm. Her bones felt cold, like winter cold, and her hand shook as she bent down to brush the thick layers of leaves away.

She stared at the bolt, thick and rusted, barring the old wood door. Her fingers traced over it, but she didn’t want to open it now. She wanted to be back in her own bed, safe. She didn’t want that picture of her father, that wild picture.

But her fingers tugged on the bolt, and then she used both hands as it resisted. She set her teeth when it scraped open.

It was her bike, she told herself even while a terrible weight settled in her chest. Her shiny red birthday bike. That was what she would find.

Slowly, she lifted the door, looked down into the dark.

She swallowed hard, took the little flashlight out of her pocket, and, using its narrow beam, made her way down the ladder.

She had a sudden fear of her father’s face appearing in the opening. That wild and terrible look on his face. And that door slamming shut, closing her in. She nearly scrambled back up again, but she heard the whimper.

She froze on the ladder.

An animal was down here. Why would her daddy have an animal down . . . A puppy? Was that her birthday surprise? The puppy she’d always wanted but wasn’t allowed to have. Even Mason couldn’t beg them a puppy.

Tears stung her eyes as she dropped down to the dirt floor. She’d have to pray for forgiveness for the awful thoughts—thoughts were a sin as much as deeds—she’d had about her father.

She swung her light around, her heart full of wonder and joy—the last she would feel for far too long. But where she imagined a puppy whimpering in his crate was a woman.

Her eyes were wide and shined like glass as tears streamed from them. She made terrible noises against the tape over her mouth. Scrapes and bruises left raw marks on her face and her throat.

She wasn’t wearing any clothes, nothing at all, but didn’t try to cover herself.

Couldn’t, couldn’t cover herself. Her hands were tied with rope—bloodied from the raw wounds on her wrists—and the rope was tied to a metal post behind the old mattress she lay on. Her legs were tied, too, at the ankles and spread wide.

Those terrible sounds kept coming, pounded on the ears, roiled in the belly.

As in a dream, Naomi moved forward. There was a roaring in her ears now, as if she’d gone under the water too long, couldn’t get back to the surface. Her mouth was so dry, the words scraped her throat.

“Don’t yell. You can’t yell, okay? He might hear and come back. Okay?”

The woman nodded, and her swollen eyes pleaded.

Naomi worked her fingernails under the edge of the tape. “You have to be quiet,” she said, whispering as her fingers trembled. “Please be quiet.” And pulled the tape away.

It made an awful sound, left a raw, red mark, but the woman didn’t yell.

“Please.” Her voice sounded like a rusty hinge. “Please help me. Please, don’t leave me here.”

“You have to get away. You have to run.” Naomi looked back toward the cellar door. What if he came back? Oh God, what if the wild man who looked like her father came back?

She tried to untie the rope, but the knots were too tight. She rubbed her fingers raw in frustration, then turned away, using her little light.

She saw a bottle of liquor—forbidden by her father’s law in their house—and more rope, coiled and waiting. An old blanket, a lantern. Magazines with naked women on the covers, a camera, and oh no, no, no, photographs of women taped to the walls. Like this woman, naked and tied up and bloody and afraid.

And women who stared out with dead eyes.

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