The Exodus

The Exodus is a fictional short story based on occurrences that took place in Missouri after Governor Lilburn Boggs signed the Extermination Order against The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1838.

Elizabeth awoke to the frigid February air funneling into her home through the front door. An unfamiliar hand clamped over her mouth only a second later. Kicking and flailing, she reached for Ezra but failed to find the comfort her fingertips sought. Hot breath, wreaking of stale beer and tobacco, stung her nose as muscled arms dragged and then thrust her outside,  her hands and knees sinking into the snow. Beside her, her three young children fell.

“Ma?” Peter picked up his two-year-old sister and helped Elizabeth up. “Where’s Pa?”

Heartache set aside, Elizabeth grabbed the hands of her two children, trusting Peter to carry Clara, and ran for the darkened path leading from their property to the Beckers’. “Run, hurry!”

She and the children shivered as the night air whipped through thin clothes and the six-inch snow crunched under bare feet.

“Pa!” Emily cried great racking sobs as the sound of gunfire ignited her senses further.

Warm amber light soon reflected off the glistening ice, and the mob’s horses galloped from the scene.

“Pa.” Peter turned, running toward the glow, chest heaving, and Clara bouncing in his arms as tears flowed freely from everyone’s eyes. Slowed by the toddler he carried, Elizabeth caught him by the arm.

“Take your sisters and go to the Beckers’. I’ll see to Pa.” She stared into the eyes of her oldest, lit by the blazing house, barn, and night sky. “Don’t stop, just run. And don’t let go of your sisters.”

Peter nodded.

The Beckers’ house lay several miles to the north—the only family they could trust since the order for their religious group to leave the state had been given. The others were mostly gone. Rescuers from the neighboring state helped gather families and get them to safety—oxen, horses, and cows often driven to the brink of death. Carts overflowed with the few belongings people grabbed. Others fled with nothing. She and Ezra had planned to leave the next morning. Their meager cart now burned with the barn.

Step by agonizing step, Elizabeth found her way back to their homestead. Wind pricked at her frozen skin through her nightgown. Eyes watered not only from tears but from the cold, bristling air that surrounded her. Feet numb, she picked up her skirt and ran.

Swift legs carried her toward her goal. Refusing to consider Ezra’s death, she considered only the life ahead of them. Thousands of now destitute people migrated from settlements they’d once called home to the neighboring state. People—friends—slept in the yards of rescuers with hardly a blanket for warmth. But they had food. They would rebuild, she and Ezra together.

Inconsistent breaths entered and exited Elizabeth’s lungs as she careened around the house, knees landing in the melting snow next to Ezra. “Please Ezra.”

His eyes found hers. “Help.”

She gazed at his shoulder, blood oozing from the wound. “How? What do I do?” The words stung the tip of her tongue.

“My shirt, Elizabeth, help.” Ezra tried to sit up but fell back into the snow. The melting patterns proved it was not his first attempt.

“You’ll freeze.” Elizabeth removed her undergarment and pushed the waded drawers over her husband’s wound.

“Help me stand.”

Arms around her husband, she pushed, pulled, and lifted until he wavered on his feet instead of the ground. The paleness of his face brought her rushing to support him better.

“Where are the children?”

Tears welled in Elizabeth’s eyes as she prayed continuously for their young children. How had she left them alone in the dark?

“I sent them to the Beckers’.”

“They’ll make it. The Lord will see us through.”

Following her earlier footsteps, Elizabeth led her dying husband toward the Beckers’ home. His shivering weighted his body, each movement a struggle for both him and her. The full moon rose higher in the sky, lighting the bloody footprints of their children. They added their own as a testament of their persecution.

How had people come to hate them so much? They wished only to worship God as they desired—a right given through the Constitution but forgotten by mob and government. Hate legalized the extermination of human beings because of their religious beliefs. Though given until spring, no one stopped those who hunted early. Guards stood to keep them from food and warmth, not as protection. Only those leaving were permitted to pass.

Ezra fell to his knees and clasped her hands, his teeth chattering. “Go.”

She fell beside him, holding him in her arms. “I can’t leave you, Ezra.” Blood seeped from under his hand to her nightdress as they embraced.

“Go.”

Refusing, she wrapped her arms around him. “They’ll come. Someone will come.”

Moving behind him, she pulled him against her bosom, helping him to sit. She pushed her hand against his, her soaked drawers dripping blood down his nightshirt. His eyelids fluttered as he complained about the heat, a sign of hypothermia.

“Stay awake, Ezra.”

Pushing him forward and lifting him up, she raised him to his feet. He tried to fight her, to refuse, but her strength overpowered him. “You’ll walk or I’ll drag you!”

He shuffled his foot forward.

“You can’t die. Not today, Ezra. We’ve too much to do. I don’t build houses, and I can’t raise that boy without you. Take a step.”

He eased his foot forward again.

Elizabeth rubbed her own frozen hands down his arms, attempting to warm him. The sound of wagon wheels and horses broke through the deadly wind, whipping past her ears. Don waved his arms, calling lost words to them.

Needling breaths entered Elizabeth’s lungs, a wan smile crossing her lips. “They’re here.”

They fell to their knees; she supported her husband even then.

Jumping from their seats, Don and David Becker lifted Ezra into the buckboard, where blankets lay atop straw. Wrapping him tightly in a quilt, Don eased Ezra’s hand from the wound and packed it with clean cloths. “A miracle you’re alive.”

Elizabeth, helped into the wagon by David, curled into a blanket next to her husband as their friends layered three more on top of them.

“You should be proud of Peter, Elizabeth. He got your two girls to us before collapsing himself. The three of them are wrapped up warm. Mary’s tending to their feet now.” David said, then looked at his son. “Don, we need to leave tomorrow.”

“But…” With Elizabeth’s strength depleted, her teary eyes shifted between the father and son. “Ezra.”

Her husband still shivered next to her.

“He can ride in the wagon if you and your children will pull a cart.”

She nodded.

“Mary’s got clothes for you—and your boy and girls too. I’ve some leather strips for your feet. Wish we had more to give.”

“People have given less.” She said softly.

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Meet the Author: Gordon Buttars as he tells us about himself

Meet the Author: Gordon ButtarsThe Farmer

My name is Gordon Buttars and I live in Rexburg Idaho with my wife, our daughter, and two young grandsons. I grew up on a farm in Burley, Idaho, and graduated from Burley High School in 1973. After attending one year at Ricks College and a serving in the Colorado Denver Mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I settled into what I thought was a life of farming. Two years after returning from my mission I married my wife, Bonnie and eleven months later our first son was born. Farming wasn’t easy, but I loved it. Then a bad crop put an end to my dream job. At the same time our daughter was born, my father died, and I had to find a new career.

Computer Programmer

After getting some vocational training in computer programming, I got a job in Rexburg and have been here since 1983. While engaged in my second career, we had two more children, one of which lived only 26 hours. As things go, after eighteen years I was laid off and at 46 no one wanted to take a chance on me.

Job Loss

The next few years were desperate, but by the grace of God we made it through. I had hopes of opening a bookstore here in Rexburg, but one obstacle after another got in my way and it never happened. Then about 15 years ago, I developed a neurological disorder that severely limited my abilities. Here again, the Good Lord has seen us through.

Gordon Buttars the Author:

Six years ago I decided to try my hand at writing after watching my son write a 50,000 word novel for the National Novel Writers Month challenge, I decided to try my hand at writing and after several revisions and having a professional proofreader/editor go through it, I am wrapping up my historical novel series and hope to find someone willing to publish it.

Flyboy:

Flyboy is a twelve-volume historical novel of one man’s journey through life, interwoven into the times in which he lived. It is a tale of love and life, tragedy and war. Sheffield “Curly” Brason always seems to be in the right place as he relies on his faith in God to get him through, whether it was his family or his career as a naval officer and aviator. The events and occasions throughout his life prepare him and lead him to eventually find the gospel and join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and put him on a path of faithful service for the remainder of his life.

Volume One

Geannie is a look back at Sheffield “Curly” Brason’s early life between 1898 and 1926. He grows up in Roanoke, Virginia, next door to Geannie, the love of his life, who was born on the same day. Growing up, they are playmates, buddies, and best friends. Then one day, he discovers that she is a young woman and they become sweethearts ever after.

Both Curly and Geannie grow up in religious homes, which establishes a pattern of living for the rest of their lives. More than anything else, Curly wants to fly and become a pilot. To accomplish his goal, he follows in the footsteps of his grandfather and uncle and attends the United States Naval Academy. After he graduates and receives his commission in the United States Navy and Geannie graduates from Hollins College with a teaching certificate, they are married on their twenty-third birthdays.

Rather than begin their lives together, Curly departs on a nine-month round-the-world-cruise with his ship. Even after he returns, Geannie remains in Roanoke where she teaches school while he is stationed 250 miles away in Norfolk, Virginia.

After two years of sea duty, Curly is accepted into flight school and they move to Pensacola, Florida, where they learn to live together and start a family and where their daughter, Sandy, is born. Once he receives his wings, the real adventure began when they moved clear across the country to San Diego, California, where he is assigned to a squadron stationed at North Island Naval Air Station.

As Curly and Geannie settled into living in Southern California, they explore their new surroundings, including a trip to Ensenada, Mexico. Together they face the challenges put before them and grow. It is while living in Mexico that they establish life-long friendships with Shorty and Wilma Sharp, Freddy and Susan McGowan, who Curly flew with, and particularly Ramona North and Harvey Morrison. Ramona, especially, becomes an integral part of their lives.

Volume one culminates with a harrowing experience that Geannie has to go through and how she comes to forgive the perpetrator.

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Book Review: One Among Them by M.K. Dymock

Keenley grew up in the Rocky Mountains. Unpredictable and dangerous as they were, they only brought her comfort…until they didn’t.

Book Review: One Among Them M.K. Dymock

An outdoor enthusiast herself, M.K. Dymock hits this writing trail and rides it to the end. Lucky for us, we can follow along in her fictional mystery One Among Them. This novel keeps readers on their toes as they wonder if Keenley’s family will find her before her attacker or the elements of nature take her life.

My Thoughts on One Among Them:

The blurb and subject of One Among Them called to me, and I picked this book up for myself. With just enough knowledge of the Rockies to think I had a clue, I jumped into chapter one. Then I spend several days trying to figure out where in the Rockies the story took place. My small knowledge of the 3,000-mile mountain range confused me. For the record, my limited understanding comes from a very small section of the Wasatch Front, which is located in Utah. Though I understood from the start that most people think of Colorado when considering the Rockies, my mind immediately went to Utah when the author described the western slopes. I also didn’t realize there was a desert in northwestern Colorado, or that the Wasatch Front didn’t butt directly up to the mountains in the neighboring state. So much for those geography lessons! Once I humbled myself and asked people to help me locate the area I was reading about, a whole new world (enter Disney music here) opened up to me.

One Among Them starts with action and keeps it going while allowing the reader to connect with the characters. I loved the way the author helped me to connect, not only to Keenley but also to her parents and others involved in the search. Throughout the story, I wondered who on earth the attacker was. As I got closer to the end and things were wrapping up, I thought I had it all figured out—nope. The swing and a miss didn’t hurt too much, but it did smart a little. When I finished, I  thought about immediately turning to page one and starting over. Alas, too many other books await reviews. Still, this isn’t a one-time read, not by a long-shot.

Official Blurb:

Everyone in town wants to find Keenley, but someone doesn’t intend for her to come home.

The town of Lost Gorge, hidden and protected from the world by the Rockies, hides some secrets of its own. When Keenley Dawson never returns home from mountain biking, the town unites to find her. Most everyone assumes she’s lost on the rugged trails or hurt.

She is lost and hurt, but it was no accident.

After being attacked and abducted, Keenley escapes into the wilderness. She knows how to survive the wilds, but what she doesn’t know is how to live when she’s being hunted.

More Info:

Purchase your copy of One Among Them on Amazon

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Flash Fiction: Broken Daisies

Flash Fiction: Broken Daisies
Photo by Albert Bridge

The worn welt curved around the edges of my suitcase, threatening to pop from the seams as the zipper stretched to accommodate the overflowing clothing. Muttered vengeful words never reached my ears, but I understood them. My lips spit them out. No matter what I tried, nothing changed. Old houses only got older, cars broke down, jobs disappeared, and bank accounts stayed empty. Just once I wanted to run my dishwasher without washing the dishes first or order a pizza because it sounded good. Instead, I mopped up kids’ barf and scrubbed bathrooms only to return home and do the same for my family. Rob slept through the night and most mornings. The rest of the time he slumped at the computer looking for work.

I stopped in the bathroom and gathered other necessities. Toothbrush, makeup, deodorant. Beard trimmings speckled the sink. How hard was it to get rid of beard trimmings? I reached over and turned on the leaky faucet, splashing water over the top of the stiff hairs. The drain gurgled as it worked to keep up with the flow. Questioning what I was doing, I shut the water off—as best as I could, anyway—and left my suitcase by the front door.

My sneakers lifted from a sticky spot on the floor and squelched the rest of the way into the kitchen. I’d dropped the kids off at Mom’s earlier. Vacation. That’s what they called it. I hadn’t told them my plans yet. I hadn’t told Rob, but I was about to. The quiet of the house sent eerie tingles down my spine, reminding me how much I hated it.

As I walked past the corner of the counter, a crashing sound caught my attention. A broken glass covered in painted white daisies met my gaze. My elbow had knocked it off. Slowly squatting near the fragmented mess, the first tear traced the side of my cheek. The last glass—the others had broken years before. Somehow it seemed fitting that it would break today. Still, I cried.
I’d placed the glassware on our wedding registry ten years ago, hoping some kind soul would take pity on me and give something other than the standard clear Walmart specials sold for $8.99. Opening that wrapped package brought me almost as much joy as marrying Rob.

Picking up the largest shard, I gently rubbed my forefinger over the daisy design. I never thought daisies were pretty. Their basic petals and yellow centers dotted children’s drawings and their leaves reminded me of overgrown cilantro. So many times I’d dreamed of beautiful flowers with unique petals and vivid colors. Orchids, lilies, hibiscus, they all bloomed in so many varieties, but daisies invaded lawns. Then Rob gave me daisies when he proposed. Daisies—not roses—simple daisies. Suddenly my whole outlook had changed.

I clutched the shard to my chest and wept as I remembered his knit brows and how his lips had trembled. Down on one knee, his eyes glistened and his voice cracked when he eased the words will you marry me from his tongue. It was months later when he told me about the rock piercing his kneecap. All that time I thought he’d been trying not to cry.

A corner of my mouth threatened to turn up at the memory, but as I looked at the painted remnant in my hand, the tears returned, and I sank further to the floor. That day daisies had become my favorite flower. It wasn’t a distaste in cheap wares that caused me to register for the glasses. Not really.

Two kids and five years into our marriage, I screamed at Rob for his laziness. Why couldn’t he keep a job? Struggling as newlyweds was one thing, but we had two children. In my anger, I’d picked up the closest thing and threw it at the wall, intentionally missing him. The first glass. He held me in his arms as I realized what I’d thrown. Hair tickled my cheek as he brushed it away from my face, comforting me by pulling me closer. Promises of better jobs and a house with new carpeting filled my ears. My anger died when I saw what I’d thrown, but he didn’t need to know that.

A few years later, I told Rob why daisies were my favorite flower, including how I’d never liked them previously. Less than a week afterward, Rob purchased a bouquet of beautiful pink lollipop daisies and enlisted our daughter Emma’s help. The flowered glass slipped from her hands as she filled it with water. After cleaning up the mess, Rob filled the next one. I’d never seen such a beautiful sight as my smiling daughter standing next to her father as they presented me with the gift.

Though I tried to drop the shard to the floor and stand to tell Rob of my plans, my body refused. Tears spotted my blouse, and a small puddle formed on the floor, but only stains lined my cheeks now.

Warm hands rubbed at my shoulders, and I reached up, clutching one. “I broke the last one.”

“Are you sure about that?” His soft voice comforted me. But I had a plan…

“Yeah. I remember two others breaking, and the third disappeared years ago.”

“Disappeared where?”

I shrugged. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t remember. “I should have put this one up.”

“Wait here.”

Rob disappeared, and emptiness surrounded me as I stared at the glass, heaviness returning to my body. Shuffling noise echoed from the hallway, but nothing seemed important anymore.

“Christy?”

My eyes lifted as they fell on the item Rob held before me. “Where?”

He pulled me to my feet and held me in his arms. “I put one away for safekeeping.”

“You…?” My words faded.

“I know you love them.” He loosened his hold on me and glanced toward the door. “Are you going somewhere?”

“What? No. I-I thought I might, but I’ve changed my mind.”

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Book Review: Diving for Love by Jenny Rabe

What do you do when you realize you’ve fallen in love with your best friend and he’s dating the girl that’s tormented you all year? Mariana set out to fulfill a new goal: forget about it. See how it all works out in Diving for Love by Jenny Rabe.

Book Review: Diving for Love

Jenny Rabe, a wonderful YA author and one of my favorite online personas, went on more than 150 dates before settling down with her husband and having soon-to-be four children. Certainly, this plays a part in her romance-writing abilities, which she demonstrates clearly in Diving for Love. This story may be for young adult readers, but ladies, you are bound to enjoy it, too.

My Thoughts:

Who of us hasn’t enjoyed the tingle of young love? I’m all for the rich and fulfilling love twenty-three years of marriage has provided me, but remembering the feelings of teenage love still puts a smile on my face. And though Disney stories are fun, my favorite young love stories include characters who don’t experience love at first sight.

Diving for Love starts with the classic story of a girl who falls in love with her best friend. When events turn against Mariana, due to the thick blinders Dennis wears when it comes to his mean girlfriend, she sets goals to forget the whole crush idea, focus on earning money for college, and to take care of Abuela. Having the new employee, Sam, diving with her at the snuba shop seems to help, especially when he shows interest in her.

The situations Mariana finds herself in float readers through a fictional reality that I quite enjoyed. Her love for Abuela and confusion over Dennis and Sam don’t come across as contrived, but as the emotions everyone feels at one point or another. I found myself laughing with and talking to the characters as if they could hear me, as well as worrying about what might happen next. The author’s casted ripples of mystery that appear throughout the story riveted me. Well-written, filled with plenty of punny humor, and completely clean, every romantic is sure enjoy Diving for Love.

Official Blurb:

Seventeen-year-old Mariana Rodriguez is devastated when her best friend and long-time crush, Dennis, chooses to date her tormentor over her. She plunges into work at her uncle’s dive shop, determined to sink her feelings for Dennis. When the new employee, Sam, shows interest in her, Mariana feels like she’s found the perfect springboard to moving on.

After both the shop and her abuela’s house are vandalized, Mariana can’t help but suspect that the two events are connected. She reluctantly calls on the one person who can help her, but allowing Dennis back into her life only makes her feelings for Sam murky. To protect her family from financial ruin, Mariana must decide who to trust. And with any luck, she’ll get her chance at true love along the way.

More Info:

Purchase your e-book or print copy of Diving for Love on Amazon.

Follow Jenny Rabe on Facebook   Twitter   Goodreads
Visit Jenny’s website and her newsletter.

Receive your free download of Sometimes A Bird Has to Fly, my favorite flash fiction piece by visiting KameoMonson.com, where you can also find more book reviews, recommended reads, flash fiction, and stories about me.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for this review. All opinions are my own.
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Book Review: Unforgivables by Tabi Slick

Circuses attract unusual performers, but the Beaumont Bros. Circus may attract the most unusual bunch of misfits the world has ever known, in the novella Unforgivables by Tabi Slick.

Tabi Slick

Tabi Slick, the author of the Tomkin’s School Trilogy, brings us the e-book novella Unforgivables, winner of an Indies Helping Indies Book Review Project Recommended Read award. In this award-winning story, people with unknown powers, like Emma, are hunted by people without. This time though, London’s most revered detective jumps on the case and puts Emma and her new friends’ abilities to disappear to the test.

My thoughts:

I read several kinds of genres and have always been a fan of the stories that include paranormal elements. Something about unexplained powers and phenomena tingles my imagination. The same is true of Tabi Slick’s newest novella.

Unforgivables takes place in London during the 1800s. I noticed immediately that the author built the setting from that time period well, which was shown not only in her descriptions but also in her word choice and sentence structure. She keeps this tone through the entire story and does a great job of creating a circus-feel. I never realized such a thing was possible until reading Unforgivables with imagined carnival music running through my head the entire time. The action starts on page one and moves right along all the way to the last word, so pages are not bombarded by slow passages that cause readers to lose interest. In these ways, Unforgivables is extraordinary.

However, I did find myself struggling through much of the novella. Upon reflection, I believe most of my struggle comes from a lack of connection to the characters. I often felt the writing told me how to feel by sharing exactly how the characters felt, instead of letting me make inferences. By the time I felt ready to start connecting with someone, the story ended.

Unforgivables also switches between third-person point of view (various characters) and first-person point of view (Emma). The first time the point of view switched, it jolted me and I stumbled, trying to figure out what had happened. After that first occurrence, I expected the change and rather enjoyed the setup.

All in all, I think there are plenty of people who would enjoy this book. I, personally, need a connection to the characters and just couldn’t get pulled in that direction. If you like fast-paced, paranormal novellas that keep you on your toes, Unforgivables is a good choice.

Official Blurb:

Emma seemed an ordinary girl, but she had secrets. Not only did she have the ability to transform into a winged monster, she was also wanted for murder. After a series of unlikely events, she finds herself on the run from London’s most revered detective with only a circus filled with paranormal misfits to keep her company. Emma must find her way to freedom, but will she be able to do what is necessary to leave her past behind once and for all?

More info:

Read Unforgivables by Tabi Slick on Kindle Unlimited or purchase your e-copy on Amazon.

Unforgivables is the prequel to Tompkin’s School Trilogy, but can easily be read as a stand-alone novella.

Follow Tabi Slick:  TabiSlick.com  Goodreads  Facebook  Twitter

Read more reviews and writing fun from me at kameomonson.com, where you can download your free copy of Sometimes A Bird Has to Fly.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for this review. All opinions are my own.

 

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Flash Fiction: YouTube Escape

The pace of the car matched the pace of Kara’s racing heart. How did she get into this mess? With another jolting shake of her head, a bobby pin fell to the floor. Now to find it. With arms handcuffed behind her, she twisted her body, and her head curved deeper into the trunk. The phrase ‘needle in a haystack’ entered her mind. Her finger brushed against the edge of the bobby pin, and it slid further away. Dang-it. Willing herself to search more gently, she patted the floor.

Minutes.

Minutes had passed, and Kara had no idea where they were taking her. Not far. Maybe far. The farming community lay only miles away from the city, that’s why smugglers liked it. She knew better than to explore their hideaway, but she couldn’t help herself. There was no question that they’d see the smoke from the fire she’d started. If she were a guy, she’d be dead. Best guess now, she’d be sold.

Her middle finger tightened around the bobby pin. Shallow breaths calmed her shaky hand, ensuring she wouldn’t drop it. Stripping the plastic from the tips with her teeth, she straightened the pin, trying to remember the training she’d received via YouTube. As she worked to place the bobby pin in the latch at the end of the handcuff, the shaking returned, and she fought harder to control her gelatinous fingers. The pain emanating from her head didn’t help.

The bobby pin slid into the opening. Kara pulled. Nothing happened. Don’t hyperventilate. Breathe. She sifted through the muddled thoughts in her mind. Wrong method—that way used a snap barrette. Reaching toward the cuffs with the bobby pin again, she pushed it into the keyhole, the pin telling her when it was on top of the button. She pushed, and the cuff popped open. Kara gasped as she removed the duct tape from her lips.

Scooting toward the trunk door, she searched for the glowing emergency latch. Nothing. Think. Think! Kara rolled to her belly and dug her fingernails into the seam of the carpeting. Where is it? Where is it? Her heart throbbed within her chest, echoing in her ears.

A cable ran under her fingers, and tears cascaded down her cheeks. Please, God. Kara wrapped her hands around the cable and yanked it as hard as she could toward the front of the car. The trunk popped open, and she flung herself toward it, hoping to keep it from getting caught by a gust of wind. Too late.

The trunk flew open, and Kara faced the cold, hard truth. No other cars drove on the road. No immediate rescuer waited outside the trunk. No one would help her.
The car slowed. Kara’s heart rate doubled. ‘Jump. Jump before they stop. Jump.’ Her mind willed her body to move, but her body refused. ‘Jump,’ her mind whispered again.

I can’t.

‘JUMP!’

Kara threw herself from the trunk and forced herself into a roll. She crashed onto the rough pavement, her shoulder and hip crying in agony. Get up! She scrambled to the edge of the road and to her feet.

Run.

Her legs carried her swifter than a roadrunner escaping a coyote. The sound of a bullet, then another, cracked behind her. Run. Zig. Now Zag. Would they follow her? No way to know. Darkness engulfed her, and piercing pain erupted over her body as she stumbled. Cactus. Her motion slowed but never stopped. Ducking around the cholla, she tried to run again.

Needles dug deeper into her skin, but she didn’t dare touch any of the oversized burrs. That would only make it worse. Did Mike call the police yet? Was Mike still alive? Tears streamed down her dirt-coated cheeks as blood spotted her face, and screams burst from her lips. Why did she start that fire? What enticed her to explore that hideaway? Only some kind of stupid would call it an adventure.

Specs of light lit the distant horizon. A road? A house? Kara didn’t know, but she ran faster—screamed louder.

“Help me!”

Nothing.

“Please, help me!”

Silence.

A house. Kara flung her sweat-soaked back against the door, screaming for help. Raising her bloodied hands to the door, she pounded her tender palms against the wood. A coyote howled.

“Someone there?” An older woman’s voice called from beyond the door, colored by a heavy accent.

“P-please help me.”

The door cracked open, and a woman’s heavily wrinkled face shone with concern as she gasped and flung the door wider, leading Kara inside. “Let me get a comb. We’ll get those spines out of you. What’re you doing in the desert at night?”
Kara stumbled into the house. “Escaping … kidnapped.” Her breathing burned her lungs as she blew dust back into the air. “Call the police.”

“Police? Here? You don’t want the police. You want the embassy; this is Mexico.”

“But you’re speaking English.”

“So are you.”

Kara’s shoulders slumped as her head dropped warily toward her swollen hands, only for her to realize they hurt too much to cradle her face. Instead, tears escaped her eyelids freely, eroding the dirt from her cheeks. “Where is it?”

“Not far.”

“Take me now, please.”

“Tomorrow.”

Tremors racked Kara’s body, and she jerked her head back and forth. “Now.”

“Tomorrow will be better.”

“Please, now. I don’t belong here. I want to go home. Please.”

The old woman sighed, “Let’s remove the cactus first.”

Kara nodded, and the old woman eased a comb under each bulbous cactus burr. Blood, from several welts under the burrs, pooled on her skin as the spiny balls lifted from her body one by one.

With the cactus removed and the bleeding stopped, Kara shuffled toward the gate of the Embassy. The old woman had dropped her off and driven away without notice. Guards stood at the gate, their hands sliding toward weapons as they studied her. She stopped. “Please. I’m American. I was kidnapped.”

They peered closer at her. “Name?”

“Kara Matthews.”

“ID?” Their arms stayed at the ready.

She shook her head.

One of the guards disappeared.

Moments later, Kara was ushered into a room and offered a hard plastic chair.

“We need to verify your identity. It shouldn’t take long; someone reported a Kara Matthews missing. How did you get here?”

Stress and agony relaxed as her heart began to slow for the first time in hours. “A YouTube education followed by a prickly situation.”

Never get too close to cholla. It will jump at you before you ever get a chance to touch it.

 

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