He shined his failing flashlight across the floor. There were hammers, wrenches, pliers, piles of nails and screws. Stepping inside, he saw what he was looking for—a hacksaw lying on a sheet of copper.
He grabbed it and headed back toward the staircase, attempting to retrace his steps to Andrew Thomas and the women.
The light went out.
Horace knocked it against the stone. The light came back weaker.
He moved on through the twisting tunnels, taking only one wrong turn before arriving at the alcove.
“What’d you find?” Andrew whispered.
“Since Beth already has one hand free, cut her chain first.”
“Hold this steady.”
Horace put the flashlight in Andrew’s hands. Then he walked over and took hold of the chain that linked Beth’s manacles to the iron ring.
“Lean back,” he whispered. “You got to pull it tight.”
Beth pulled the chain and Horace set the blade of the hacksaw against the metal.
“Andrew,” he said, poised to begin sawing, “would you grant me an exclusive interview when we get out of this?”
The second he asked, he felt dirty, and wished he hadn’t.
“You get us out of this, I’ll father your children.”
Horace began to saw.
It was awkward at first, the chain moving so much the blade kept slipping. But once it had begun a groove in the link, the blade moved through the metal like it was rotten pine. He’d cut the first link in less than two minutes, but as he started into the next one the light died again.
“Piece of shit.”
“That beam was pretty weak,” Andrew said. “Might not come back on.”
“I put fresh batteries in this afternoon.”
Andrew flicked the on-off switch several times and the light returned, just a faint orange glow, but adequate to work by.
Horace attacked the final link.
When the chain severed, Beth fell back into the wall, a manacle still attached to her left wrist.
“Who’s next?” Horace asked.
“Do him,” said the little blond.
Horace handed the flashlight to Beth, told her, “Aim it here.”
Andrew leaned back, pulled the chain taut.
Horace drew the blade slowly against the metal until he could feel a groove deepening. Then he sawed like mad, the friction of the blade on the chain filling the alcove with metallic screaming and the odor of heated steel.
He made it through the first link in less than a minute and had started into the second one when the blond whispered, “Wait!”
Horace stopped sawing.
A creaking emanated from somewhere in the basement.
“What is that?” Beth asked.
Horace felt a tremor sweep through him.
“Someone’s coming down the steps,” he said.
As he reached for the flashlight it went out.
“Fuckin’ kidding me.”
Horace grabbed the flashlight, flicked the on-off button, and when nothing happened, smashed it into the stone. He heard the batteries fall out and roll across the floor.
Andrew said, “Horace, you have to leave and hide. Beth?”
“I’m right here.”
They were nothing now but whispers in the dark.
“Get back down on the floor and hold your hands like you’re still chained.”
“Who do you think is coming?” Horace whispered.
“Doesn’t matter,” Andrew said. “They’re all psychopaths. Now go and take the hacksaw with you so they don’t see it.”
The creaking had stopped.
Horace reached forward, felt the side of the wall, and stepped into the passageway. There wasn’t even the subtlest inference of light. Horace groped for the wall, found it, and crept away from the alcove, away from the stairs, staying close to the left side of the tunnel.
After ten steps the wall ended.
Reaching around he found that he could palm both sides of it.
He stood at the fork in the corridor.
Gazing back through swimming darkness toward the alcove, his eyes played tricks on him, firing phantom bursts of light.
The silence roared.
He strained to listen, thought he heard things—voices, footsteps—but it might’ve been his own heartbeat hammering against his eardrum.
When he saw the lanternlight on the stone he doubted his eyes. But the shadows were real, as was the sound of shuffling footsteps, and then the silhouette of a crooked old woman emerging from around a bend in the tunnel.
Horace slipped back into the adjacent corridor.
The voice he heard was soft, sweet, and utterly disarming.
“Rufus and I heard something. Ya’ll wanna go ahead and tell me what it was?”
“We haven’t heard anything,” Andrew responded.
The old woman laughed. Horace peeked around the corner, saw her standing in robe and slippers in the threshold of the alcove, firelight from the lantern playing on her deeply wrinkled face.
“Well that’s the funniest thing I’ve heard all year, because the door under the stairs was open. How do you think that happened?”
“We haven’t heard a thing,” Andrew repeated. “I was as—”
“It doesn’t matter now,” the old woman said, “because Luther locked the door, so there won’t be any leaving. He and Rufus are searching the basement right now. Rufus knows it so well, he can do it in the dark.”
The old woman turned away from the alcove and started back toward the stairs, taking the light of the lantern with her, leaving Horace Boone alone in the black.
I will wake up in my room at the Harper Castle.
It will be warm.
The sun will reflect off the harbor.
I will get dressed and walk outside into the cool morning.
I will walk to the Ocracoke Coffee Company.
I will write this scene tomorrow over breakfast.
And if that pretty cashier is there, I will talk to her.
Tell her I’m a writer.
Ask her on a date, because I’ve never done that before and after tonight what is there to fear?
Horace dropped the hacksaw and tightened the shoulder straps on his backpack.
He sat leaning against the stone wall.
His entire body quaked and the more he tried to deny it the more he knew how gravely f**ked he was. He’d never known this caliber of terror. It seemed to coat his insides like melted silver. And what magnified it was the knowledge that he’d come here on his own, dragged himself into the shit.
Down the corridor he thought he heard footsteps in the dirt.