SHE AWAKENED TO darkness, pain and nausea. Had she fallen? Somehow she knew she wasn’t in bed. She reached out blindly to explore and found an unyielding surface close above her. Movement and a rumbling vibration made her body sway from side to side. She flailed all around her, finding the walls of a box. Terror swelled in her, more powerful than the nausea.
I’m in a coffin. They’re burying me alive.
Before she could scream and hammer on the lid, consciousness slipped away.
The next time she surfaced, it was to the taste of bile in her mouth and the awareness that her stomach was heaving. Too late to get up and run for the bathroom. All she could do was fling herself onto her side before throwing up. Her head hurt so bad. She banged into something as she rolled. And it was dark. So dark. The surface she lay on was hard. Not bed.
Consciousness came and went a couple more times, her awareness fleeting, her thoughts chaotic. Once she surfaced to an awful smell, then to the realization that her cheek was resting in something sticky. Her own vomit. With a cry she hurled herself back and whacked something behind her.
Panic rose in her chest. Why can’t I see?
In her peripheral vision, there was a flash of red. She tried to turn her head to see what it was and flinched. Only one eye would open. She groped for her face and found her eyelid crusted shut. With something. The smell was bad, but it didn’t matter, not when she hurt so much. She closed her other eye and gave up.
Finally she awakened and remembered the other times. Not a coffin. Her questing fingers found cold metal, with strange dips and curves and even a few holes. She succeeded in rolling all the way over and almost passed out again. Her head wanted to explode. Blood, she thought. It was blood crusting her eye. I hit my head.
She’d become used to the vibration and the sounds that might have been occasional gusts of wind. Not wind, she finally recognized: cars passing on a highway. Her mind fumbled for understanding. She was in a car. Locked in the trunk of a car that was moving. Bewildered, she turned the notion over and over. Not knowing why this was so wrong, but also confused about where she should be. She couldn’t think. It was because of the headache.
Suddenly she slid sideways and barely managed to get an arm up to keep her head from hitting the side wall. She was being pitched backward despite herself. Oh, gross, into the vomit. The car was braking, that was it. Fear rose like the contents of her stomach had earlier, clogging her throat. Once the car stopped, she wouldn’t be safe at all.
But it had stopped. The engine turned off. She heard a door open, then slam. She squeezed her eyes shut. If she pretended she was still unconscious...
Footsteps came close and she flinched, but then they began to diminish. The driver must be walking away. She strained until she didn’t hear the footsteps at all, until the silence was absolute.
Then, frantically, mindlessly, she shoved upward with all her strength, despite knowing the trunk lid wouldn’t give way. Stupid, stupid. Think. Just like that, she had a picture of herself—it must be her—leaning into an open car trunk. She could smell fresh lumber, hear a man’s impatient voice.
“What are you waiting for? Push down the backseat.” Because she wasn’t very big, she’d had to all but crawl into the trunk before she could reach the latch to yank, then push the back of the seat until it flopped forward.
Panting now, she groped above her for a latch. Please, please, please let this car have seats that fold down. Her fingers closed around a familiar, plastic T-shaped piece dangling at the back of the trunk and she pulled. If there were other people in the car... If the driver hadn’t been alone...
There was a clunk and a sliver of light. She pushed, and half the seat folded down—not the whole one. It wasn’t what she expected. This wasn’t the car she remembered, then.
Through the opening and the windshield, she saw that it was night outside, and that there were bright lights. No one was in the car with her. Whimpering, she crawled right through the vomit and then the hole into the passenger compartment. Opened the back door and almost fell out onto pavement. She stumbled into a curb and lifted her head to see a gas pump. She wanted to run, run, run, but an inner voice told her to push the seat back in place, shut the car door. Maybe the driver wouldn’t know he’d lost her. While she carefully closed the door, the sound was so loud she cringed and crouched behind the fender, holding her breath to listen. But she heard no footsteps, no roar of anger. The car sat alone at the pumps.
She crept around the trunk and saw the mini-mart with a brightly lit ARCO sign. He must have gone inside to use the bathroom or buy something.
Run, run, run.