Tag Archive | Tarnished

Tarnished – Conclusion

Has Kier’s plan worked? Is Hannah free?

The driver’s door to the other car was finally forced open. The passenger was already out, but Hannah couldn’t see who it was. They were getting the same treatment as Kier. The driver was yanked from the car and slammed against the back door. There was something very familiar about the stance.

“Bernie?”

The short, balding man glanced over his shoulder. “Hannah, thank God!”

“Turn and face it, buddy,” the cop said.

“That’s my fiance,” Hannah cried. “Bernie!” She tried to get around the front of the car.

“Hannah!” Kier bellowed. “Don’t listen.”

“But it’s Bernie!”

“Hannah, thank God you’re okay! I’ve been worried sick! Thank God I found you!”

“How would he know where to look, Hannah? He wouldn’t know about this Godforsaken place unless he already knew about it. He’s the Mater, Hannah. You have to believe me!” Kier called desperately at her. “For God’s sake, don’t let her near him! Hannah!”

Moonlight flashed on something in Bernie’s hand. Hannah screamed as the cold metal bit into her flesh. Everything happened at once as pain exploded in her side. She could hear Kier’s voice.

“Get these goddamn cuffs off me. Call an ambulance!”

“Catch him, he’s trying to get away! Halt, or I’ll shoot!”

The report of a weapon, a scream, a groan and all was silent. Sirens sounded in the distance. Hannah lay on the pavement, strong arms holding her, gentle fingers brushing her hair.

“I’m here, Hannah. I’ve got you. You’re all right now….”

~ * ~

She woke a long time later. Dim light limned the room in a faint blue-white glow. Rain pattered against the windows. Hannah was lying, propped up in a hospital bed. The call button was clipped to the pillow beside her head.

Thirsty, she tried to reach the water, but couldn’t quite. Someone moved in the dark, approaching the bed with care.

“Hannah?” It was Kier.

She tried to ask for water, but her throat was too dry. He poured her a glass, holding the straw to her lips. She sucked at it greedily, stopping to catch her breath. He took the cup away, setting it on the table.

“Kier,” she gasped.

“Shh, don’t try to talk. It’s over. You’re safe.”

“You saved me,” she said with a sob.

“Least I could do for the woman I love.” He kissed her brow.

“You love me? I love you.”

He kissed her tenderly, his lips lingering on hers.

“Bernie?”

“In the county lock up. Or he will be when he heals up some. Cop shot him in the ass when he was running away.”

Hannah laughed, holding his hand to her lips. “How appropriate. So, the bastard set me up?”

“Yes. He knew our shop was the only place to get the things he wanted for the wedding. He planted the idea of a Medieval wedding, and encouraged you to get the candles and incense. He planned this from the beginning, Hannah. From the moment he found out about your allergy.”

“Who are these people?”

“Who they are doesn’t matter. What they do—well, you know what they do. They find special people and torture them.”

“Why didn’t you ever try to get away?”

“I knew they’d come after me. The only way to stop them was to take down the Master. But I’d never met him. Not until they found you did he show himself.”

“But you knew it was Bernie? How?”

“Little things he did betrayed him. There was a nurse at the hospital watching him for me. Remember the woman who sat with you?”

“Yes! She was such a comfort.”

“She’s my real mother. She was just as trapped as me. Had either of us spoken up, the other’s life was forfeit. All this time, we’ve been prisoners, Hannah. You set us free.”

“No, we set each other free.”

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Tarnished – Part 12

So far, the plan has worked. Hannah is free from her prison. They aren’t home free yet. The Master has arrived and is giving chase.

The SUV bounced and bumped over the rutted dirt track. Kier concentrated on what lay ahead, glad of the excuse to stop talking. How could he tell Hannah what his part in this had been? How could he tell her that even now, he was part of the torture? He was determined to set her free, but he must play his part authentically so that the others thought he still worked with them. It was a double role he wished he didn’t have to take. But Hannah wouldn’t believe him unless it played out this way.

Hannah couldn’t speak. Fear froze her voice in her throat. Clinging to the armrest, she pushed her foot uselessly against the floor as if slamming on the break. The vehicle jounced along at an alarming speed. She bitten her tongue and cheeks a dozen times already and could feel the blood in her mouth. The salty, copper flavored liquid trickled down her throat.

The road fell out from beneath them. The SUV tottered over the edge, slamming into the ground. The wheels spun a moment, losing their grip. The tread engaged once more and the car leaped ahead. Kier almost lost control, but held on by sheer force of will.

“We’re almost to the main road,” he said. “Only one car behind us.”

“Is it the Master?”

“I expect so. He’s persistent. We’ll have to face him soon, but somewhere I choose.”

“Where are we going?”

He didn’t say a word. Concentrating on his driving, he leaned over the steering wheel, peering into the night. He didn’t want to tell her that he honestly wasn’t sure what their destination was. He hadn’t had time to plan that far ahead. He’d concentrated on getting her away from the house. Everything else he was playing by ear.

The motor roared as they hit higher ground. Soon, the tires whined against asphalt and she knew they’d made it to the highway. It was dark and lonely on the long stretch of road. There were no other cars this late at night, no towns nearby. They were at the corner of No and Where, about a hundred miles past the point where Jesus lost his sandals. Hannah hoped Kier knew where he was going, because she had no clue.

Once it gained the highway, the car behind them sped up. It crept slowly up on their rear bumper, then eased around too pass. The other driver was trying to cut them off. With a terrifying maneuver that made Hannah want to vomit, Kier hit the brake, spinning the vehicle around. They skidded crazily until he put the car back in drive, heading back the way they’d come.

The other vehicle tried the same move and nearly overturned in the ditch. It took longer, but soon they were gaining again.

“We’re never going to get away!” Hannah cried, watching the car creep up on them.

“That’s the point,” Kier said, slowing down.

“What? What are you doing? You bastard! Did you do this to torture me some more? Make me think I had a chance? I’ll kill you!” She struggled to get her belt free.

“Don’t be a fool,” he said, tone harsh. “If I wanted to torture you more, I’d have kept promising to save you while I pleasured myself with your body. You do have a magnificent body, you know.”

“I’ll kill you! You used me, Kier!”

“Be still, Hannah. I have to concentrate.” He turned sharply left.

Ahead and on her left she saw a police station. The vivid blue and white sign was a welcome sight. Three police officers, apparently on break, were standing outside, smoking. Kier gunned the motor, honking his horn. They looked up, surprised, and ran for their cars.

Moments later, they were following the SUV as it headed out of town. Kier pulled the same move he’d done before, heading back toward the town and their pursuers.

“What are you doing? Are you insane?”

He shushed her, eyes glued to the road. The police cars were gaining. The Master’s car was up ahead. When Kier got even with it, he slammed on the breaks, cutting hard toward the other car. He hit the front fender with teeth shattering force. The police cars wove crazily around, avoiding Kier, the Master and one another as all five cars ground to a halt. The Master was effectively surrounded.

Four more police cars pulled up from the opposite direction. One officer after another got out of their cars, approaching Kier and the Master warily.

“Shut off the car,” one officer said into a loudspeaker. “Hands on the ceiling. I want ’em where I can see ’em.”

Kier and Hannah complied. They couldn’t see into the other car. The windows were too darkly tinted.

Their doors flew open. Armed police held them at gunpoint. Hannah was shaking so badly, she couldn’t get out of the car. Kier allowed himself to be pulled onto the pavement.

“Assume it,” the cop said, spinning him to face the side of the car.

Hannah could see a similar process taking place at the Master’s car.

“Ma’am, step out of the car.”

“I can’t. I’m going to faint. I’ve been kidnapped.”

“By this cocksucker?” The cop cuffing Kier slammed him into the car.

“No! No! He’s helping me escape. By them.” She pointed to the other car.

“You hear that, Luke. Lady says those folks kidnapped her.”

“I’ve been held at a big house in the country. I was locked in a room and drugged. They tortured me….” She burst into tears. “Kier saved me. Please, please let him go.”

“I gotta keep him cuffed, lady.”

“It’s okay, Hannah. Don’t worry about me.”

Tarnished – Part 11

Pretending to fall asleep, Hannah waits for Kier’s rescue her.

A few minutes later, two men came in the room. Neither of them was Kier. They put her on some sort of litter and carried her down a long hallway, downstairs and across an echoing room.

They entered a more confined space. Hannah guessed it was an elevator. This was confirmed when it started sinking.

“She’s a beauty, huh?” One man said. “Master’s a lucky man.”

“Yeah. One day, I’d like to be the one getting the pretty babes. But she’s asleep. How’s that fun?”

“Who cares, man? She’s gorgeous.” A finger touched her cheek, dropping down between her breasts.

Hannah had to stop herself from flinching. It was difficult to keep her face serene.

“Stop that!” There was a thud and the hand left her face.

“You didn’t have to hit me!”

“If they catch you touching her like that, you’re dead.”

“What’s gonna happen tonight?”

“Do you really wanna know?”

“Such a waste.”

“Yeah.”

The elevator ride ended. They carried Hannah into a cold, echoing chamber. She flinched slightly when they laid her on a cold stone table, but the men didn’t notice.

“See ya, beautiful,” the one who had touched her said.

“Don’t get attached,” the other commented. “Let’s get the hell outta here.”

The elevator rumbled upward. Hannah didn’t know if she was alone, so she kept her eyes closed. Soft footsteps approached and she smelled Kier’s familiar scent.

“Hannah?”

Her eyes fluttered open. His handsome face, full of concern, hovered over hers.

“Time to go. They changed the schedule. He’s coming early. Hurry.”

He helped her up and put a pair of soft slippers on her bare feet. He led her to a stone spiral stair. Urging her ahead of him, he walked her quickly up the steps. At the top, he held his finger to his lips. He stepped ahead of her into another room. She followed when he beckoned to her and they ran to a huge garage. He selected a set of keys from the peg by the door and he loaded her into an SUV.

Once he got in, he opened the door with an electronic opener.

“Belt in. They’ll have heard that.”

Already, people were running into the garage. He gunned the motor and the SUV roared forward, knocking people aside. Hannah didn’t know if he’d killed them or not and didn’t care. Clinging to the door handle for dear life, she prayed they’d get away.

“They’ll follow us,” she cried as the people ran for other vehicles.

“They’ll try. “I spent the last hour disabling the cars. I didn’t get the Master’s. He hadn’t arrived when I came for you.”

“Can you tell me what this is all about?”

He shook his head, glancing in the rearview mirror. No signs yet of pursuit. He knew they’d give chase, but he’d slowed them down.

“Hard to explain, Hannah.”

“I mean, they have a purpose, right? They aren’t just a bunch of sickos? Your mother seemed to think it was for some greater purpose, some scientific discovery.”

“She’s not really my mother. That’s our cover at the shop. And they’re pretty much just sickos.”

“What about you? How are you involved?”

He wouldn’t answer, pain in his face.

“I’m another victim.”

“Why didn’t you get away?”

“I don’t know. It wasn’t until I met you that I even considered it.”

“Do they do to you what they’ve done to me?”

“No. They leave me alone now. They think I’m one of them.”

“Did you do—any of that to me?”

“No. I wasn’t allowed. Only the Master and Madame Lobachevsky are allowed to touch the really special specimens.”

“Who’s Madame Lobachevsky?”

“The one who calls herself my mother.”

All this time, he’d been driving furiously down narrow back roads. From time to time, he glanced in the rearview mirror. So far, nothing, but it wouldn’t last.

“But who are they? What do they want with me?”

“They call themselves the Watchers. They supposedly watch to make sure that genetic freaks don’t make it into the population. They particularly like people with silver allergies. Who know why.”

“I’m allergic to the nickel in the silver.”

“No. You’re truly allergic to the silver. Those individuals are so incredibly rare, they’re thought not to exist. But they do. I’m one too.”

“But why?”

“Ever heard of werewolves?”

“Yes, of course, don’t be silly.”

“They believe that’s what we are.”

“She said something about witches.”

“Hang on, here they come!” He sped up.

Tarnished – Part 10

With Kier on her side, Hannah isn’t quite as afraid. They both know the Master is coming. Hannah will not survive long with him in charge.  Can Kier help her escape before it’s too late?

Kier took the medicine, putting it back in his pocket. Their fingers touched and for a moment, nothing intruded, not even her fear. Kier leaned forward, his lips seeking hers. Hannah moved toward him, letting him kiss her. Her skin tingled pleasantly where he touched her. The warmth of his hands made her feel alive.

His lips traveled from hers, down her neck, to her shoulder. His fingers roamed freely over her body knowingly, as if they’d made this journey before. Kier excited her more than any of her husbands had. He was handsome, daring, brave and he wanted to help her….

Voices in the hall caught their attention. Kier eyed the door. He listened a moment before opening it a crack. Without a word, he slipped out. The lock slid in place behind him. She was trapped once more.

~ * ~

Darkness came and with it a meal tray. Hannah didn’t want to eat, afraid the food was drugged, but she was hungry. As she feared, she grew sleepy after eating. She woke some time later, her body sore and violated. This time, she knew they’d been even more intrusive. She could feel the swelling inside her.

Weeping piteously, she huddled in the middle of the bed. She could hear voices downstairs, moving outside, disappearing into the night.

The door eased open and Kier entered. He didn’t put on a light, but made his way to the bed by feel and the light of the full moon.

“I’m so sorry, Hannah. I couldn’t stop them. I’ve brought the ointment.”

“They’re going to kill me, aren’t they? When they’re done with their sick rituals…. What did they do?”

He couldn’t face her, ashamed of any part he’d had in this business. “I don’t know. I couldn’t watch. Let me help you.”

He spread the ointment on her once more. She took some, putting it between her legs, hoping to ease the pain and swelling. The hot and cold tingling was more pronounced there, exciting her in spite of her pain and shame.

Kier’s lips sought hers in the dark. His hands explored her body, growing bolder and more familiar with each pass.

Hannah’s body tingled from the ointment, the sensations augmented. Kier’s lips tasted of vanilla. He smelled like fresh lavender and sunshine. Dizzy from her ordeal, disoriented by scent, she clung to his strong body.

She didn’t protest when he lifted the hem of her robe, his hands seeking her naked body. Somehow, it felt right to have him touch her. His kisses intensified as he raised the robe above her head. He kissed her everywhere, soft lips massaging the runes burned on her flesh. The pain was nothing, numbed by the ointment. He left a searing trail in his wake.

Before she realized it, he was naked too, his body cradling hers as he kissed her. Strong hands parted her thighs and he entered her, thrusting deep. They made love slowly, barely making a sound. The sensations he woke in her body were unlike any she’d ever felt before. No man had ever done for her what he did. As she hit her peak, he kissed her to muffle her cries of delight.

Spent and panting, they lay together in the middle of the huge bed. He kissed her once more, hurriedly.

“I must go,” he whispered. “I spent too much time here. I’ll be back. I’ll find some way to save you, Hannah. I promise.”

~ * ~

Hannah spent another day and a night trapped in the room. As before, Kier came to her late at night. He applied the ointment and they made love. He left hurriedly once more, promising he’d find a way to help her. She began to wonder if he really would, of if he was using her to sate his own lust.

Curled on her bed, she lay with her own despair. Her entire body ached from the abuse, but ached too for Kier’s. She wanted to escape so they could be together forever. It was a vain hope, but one she clung to.

The third night, Kier brought her supper. “Pretend to fall asleep,” he whispered. “I’ll dispose of the food so it looks as if you’ve eaten.” He spent just enough time in the room for her to pretend to eat, and left, carrying the tray.

She collapsed on the bed, hoping she was being convincing. The door opened a little while later. She heard people talking, their voices muffled. Rough hands tugged at her clothing, yanking it off. Someone washed her body with warm water and sweet smelling soap.

“The welts are better.” She recognized the voice of Kier’s mother. “That’s not possible. How can that be?”

“People heal,” another woman said. “Why does it matter? The faster she heals, the more we can work with her. She’s truly a fascinating specimen.”

“Indeed she is. The Master will be pleased with this one.”

“Yes. Oh, I’ve forgotten the brush. Would you get it for me? I’ll finish drying her.”

“I’ll be right back. Everything must be perfect.”

The door opened and closed. The woman shook her shoulder.

“I know you’re not asleep. Kier has a plan.”

Hannah opened her eyes. “What’s he going to do?”

“He didn’t say, but he’s getting you out of here tonight. They’ll come for you as soon as we’ve finished your hair. You’ll be taken to the holy chamber. Be ready to run when you get the signal.”

“What will it be?”

“Shh, she’s coming.”

Hannah closed her eyes, relaxing her features once more. The other woman took the brush from Kier’s mother.

“Thank you. I can’t believe I was so forgetful.”

“It happens. I had quite a time finding it. It had fallen behind your bed.”

“How very odd, I wonder how that came to happen. There, she looks beautiful. The Master will be very pleased with this one.”

They dressed Hannah in a clean robe. As they were leaving, the other woman squeezed Hannah’s shoulder comfortingly.

Tarnished – Part 9

In the clutches of an evil cult, Hannah has been tortured and victimized. Kier’s mother seems to be, if not the leader, then at the top of the hierarchy. She gives the orders and others follow without question, no matter how barbaric they may be. However, amide the pain and fear, Hannah finds an unlikely friend.

 “I knew when you first walked by our shop that you were the one.”

“How could you possibly know? And how can I have walked by a shop that doesn’t exist? The police said….”

“Not all is as it seems, Hannah Renee Watson of Paw Paw, West Virginia. Did you think no one would ever find out?”

“Why does it matter where I’m from?”

“Maybe Granny was right after all. Maybe you’re a changeling.”

“Granny was a crazy old sourpuss,” Hannah replied angrily. “Her opinion can hardly be considered credible. She died senile, huddled in her cabin in the woods.”

“And yet she was right about something,” the woman said, advancing into the room. “You’re sensitive to silver—like them. You’re evil!”

“Lots of people are allergic to metal. It’s probably not the silver at all, but the cheap metals mixed with it. I can’t wear nickle either. Loads of people are allergic to that!”

“No, with you, it’s silver. Do you think we don’t know? We’ve tried different things, even nickle. Nothing makes you burn and blister like silver.”

“Why are you doing this to me? What makes it right to do this to another person? What’s wrong with you?”

Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live!” The woman snapped, eyes flashing dangerously.

“You’re crazier than Granny,” Hannah said. “At least she only waved rowan berries at me and muttered prayers when I came in the room. You torture people and quote Bible verses to make it seem like you’re doing something right! This isn’t my fault! I didn’t ask for this!”

“Witch!”

“You’re an idiot,” Hannah said. “Delusional and an idiot. You sadistic hag! How do you justify your actions? Scientific research? What makes a person go so wrong?”

“The Master will see to you,” the woman said as she backed out of the room. “He’ll see to you personally.”

“The police will be looking for me. Bernie will have called them.”

“Bernie thinks you ran away. You told him you were leaving. You told him not to look for you. No one’s looking, Hannah Renee. No one cares.”

“Bernie cares! He loves me!”

“Hmph!” She slammed the door behind her, the lock outside sliding to.

Hannah threw herself on the bed, weeping. It was true, no one would come looking for her. Even Bernie. Dear, sweet, muddled, bumbling Bernie. He’d taken her at her word. He thought she’d run away.

The door opened again and someone slipped in, shutting it quietly.

“Hannah,” he whispered.

She looked around. It was Kier.

“You! What are you doing here? Keep away from me! You’re one of them!”

“Shh, keep your voice down, would you? I swear, I’m not. Okay—I sort of am, but this is wrong, Hannah. This torture. It’s wrong. The others, they participated because they wanted to. But kidnapping you, putting you through this. It’s not right.”

He crossed the room to the bed. Hannah recoiled from him.

“I swear. I don’t want to hurt you. I brought you something.” He pulled a tube of ointment from his pocket. “This will help the pain. I can help you with it.”

“I can manage, thank you,” she said stiffly. “Set it down over there.” She nodded toward the opposite side of the bed.

“Don’t be silly. You’ve got them all down your spine. Do you think I don’t know? You can’t possibly reach.” He opened the tube, squeezing a little on his finger. “Turn around.”

He slipped the knot at her neck and pulled the robe down from her shoulders. Hannah shivered. She was naked underneath the robe. Although she was afraid, Kier’s touch excited her. She shivered when his fingers brushed against her skin. The ointment smelled like mint and it tingled when it touched her, burning cold for a moment, then hot. Soon, the pain of her wounds eased, feeling almost normal. She took the tube of medicine from him. Turning away, she applied it other places.

“Thank you,” she murmured. “Can you get me out of here?”

“I’ll try.”

“Please. Before the Master comes.”

“I’ll try, Hannah.”

“Tarnished” Part 8

Hannah’s life may be in danger. If someone’s trying to kill her, why?

People on the street walked by, ignoring her. No one even turned to look their direction.

“Help me!” She shoved at the man, her hands burning when they connect with his jacket.

The buttons. They were silver! He shoved her into the cab, slamming the door. Pounding on the roof, he sent the cab into the street, leering hungrily as it disappeared. He dug a cellphone out of his pocket.

“She’s on her way.”

“Are you sure about this, Anton?”

“Positive. She’s the most responsive subject we’ve ever had.”

“This is cruel, Anton. She’s innocent.”

“She’s a witch.”

“She’s a woman with an allergy, Anton. What you’re doing—it’s wrong.”

“Stop us then,” the older man said testily. “You’re so sure you’re right.”

The other man sighed heavily. “Why? Why must it be this way?”

“You know the law.”

The phone went dead.

Hannah struggled in the backseat, trying to get the door open. She banged on the windows, screaming with fear as the cab sped down the road. The driver seemed oblivious to her protests and the door wouldn’t budge. Before long, she noticed a sweet, cloying odor.

“What’s that…?” But she never finished her question. Slowly, she collapsed in the backseat and the cab continued out of the city.

~ * ~

She woke with a terrible headache. The cab had come to a stop. She looked out the window and saw blue skies and fall trees, little else. To her right, she saw an old fashioned gas station. An attendant stood beside the car, pumping gas.

Hannah pounded on the window, but he didn’t hear her. Her fists beat the window, sounding muffled. The attendant had his back to her and was wearing earphones. He heard nothing. Tired from the effort, she stopped pounding and tried the door. This wasn’t the cab, but a luxury sedan. She was still unable to get out.

The attendant turned around, putting the gas cap on. She tried to get his attention, waving and yelling. He glanced at her, smiling. She recognized him. He was one of the faces from her nightmare!

“NO!” She screamed. “No! No! This can’t be happening!”

She looked for her suitcase. Maybe she had something in it she could use to break the window. Her bag was missing. She tried to kick out the window, but all she succeeded in doing was bruising her feet. The attendant grinned at her. It was a cruel, heartless expression that made her blood run cold.

The driver came back to the car. He slid into the driver’s seat, not even looking at her. Hannah tried to ge this attention, but he wouldn’t turn around. Eventually, the sickly sweet odor touched her nostrils again and she fell asleep.

This time, when she woke, she was in a four poster bed in a barren stone room. Except for the bed, there was nothing. Her suitcase was nowhere to be seen. She was dressed in a soft white robe that clung to her aching body. She didn’t have to remove it to see the welts. She knew there were even more than before.

Weeping softly, she curled in a fetal position in the middle of the bed. There were no windows in the high ceilinged room. There was only a heavy wooden door with a silver doorknob just opposite the bed. As if on cue, the door opened and Kier’s mother stood there. The expression on her face was one of loathing. Hatred burned in her dark eyes.

“Tarnished” Part 7

Out of the hospital, Hannah is trying to resume her normal life. Unfortunately, something keeps getting in the way.

 Once dismissed from the hospital, Hannah and Bernie went back to his townhouse. Hannah had insisted upon separate dwellings, though he wanted her to move in. Against her protests, he called her landlord and a mover, and had her belongs packed.

“No protests, Hannah,” he insisted. “The big things go to storage, the rest comes here. You’ll be moving in after the wedding in any case. I want you where I can keep an eye on you, Hannah-banana.”

She was too tired to protest, so finally agreed. Bernie put her to bed and she fell into a troubled sleep. Visions of the woman and Kier kept floating through her dreams, doing a wicked dervish dance as others tortured her flesh.

Waking in a cold sweat, she sat up in bed. Bernie lay beside her, sound asleep. He stirred slightly as she moved around, but didn’t wake. Hannah got up and went to the bathroom.

Staring at herself in the mirror, she saw the red marks on her body looked worse instead of better. There were more of them and the pattern had changed.

Screaming, she tore off her clothing. The marks were fresh. It wasn’t her imagination, it couldn’t be.

Bernie sat up in bed, groggy and muddled. “Hannah? Hannah!” He stumbled to the bathroom to find her dressed only in her panties.

“What’s wrong?” His eyes grew round as he examined her body. “By God, Hannah. What’s happened?”

“I don’t know,” she wailed. “I don’t know. Help me!”

“How could they do anything? I was right beside you all night!”

“I don’t know,” she wailed. “I don’t know!”

She ran to the bedroom, pulling open drawers and her closet. She flung clothing into a suitcase.

“What are you doing, Hannah?”

“Leaving.”

“You can’t leave. The wedding….”

“I’m—leaving! Don’t try to stop me, Bernie. This is unreal! How could this happen? Who the hell are these people?” She kept packing.

“Where will you go?”

“I don’t know. I don’t care. It doesn’t matter now. I’m going. This nightmare will end when I’m far away.”

“I’ll go with you.” He started pulling his clothing out of the dresser.

“No.”

“Hannah!”

“I said no, Bernie. I mean it. If you know where I am, then they can find out where I am. I’m going somewhere no one knows me. Somewhere safe.” She kept repeating that.

“Okay,” he said calmly, putting his things back in the dresser. “What do I tell people? I’m assuming the wedding is canceled?”

“Postponed until they find these lunatics.”

“But what do I tell our guests? I have to tell them something.”

“I don’t care, Bernie. Tell them I’m dead.”

“Oh, haha, funny, Hannah.”

She stopped packing, giving him a baleful look.

“You mean it? I tell people you’re dead? Your mother? Your sisters?”

“Tell them whatever you want. They were only coming because it’s the right thing to do. They don’t even like me. I’ll e-mail you when I’m safe. Don’t try to find me.”

She ran to the elevator. The doors opened revealing three other people. Hannah opted for the stairs. She trotted quickly down the four flights of stairs to the lobby. She asked the doorman to hail a cab for her. He did so. Opening the door for her, he smiled.

“See you later, Ms. Simpson?”

“How do you know me?”

“I know all about you, Hannah,” he said, the smile fading. “Get in the car.” His eyes took on a steely expression.

“Help!” Hannah screamed. “Help me! Please! Help!”