She jolted awake. Where was she? Was that a gunshot? Thoughts flooded her mind as she rubbed her eyes and massaged her temple. “Alexa, turn the lamp on.” Nothing happened. “Alexa, what time is it?” No response. Stupid Alexa. Maybe the power is out, she told herself unconvinced. But then she realized she was laying on something lumpy. She felt around her hands finding a scratchy, wool blanket. What is this? She started to panic, her heart leapt. Deep breath, in one-two-three-four, out, one-two-three-four. She repeated three more times before she felt calmer. She realized she was laying on a couch. I don’t have a couch. She sat up. She slowly groped around, finding a table next to her.
The gunshot sounded closer. What is going on? She kept groping on the table until she found a lamp. She turned on the switch. Soft light flooded the room. She blinked, clearing her eyes. She saw a couple of fishing poles hanging on the wall with assorted rods and a fishing lure or two on the table underneath. A “Gone Fishin’” sign hung beside the poles. On the adjacent wall, two windows were covered in blackout curtains. Across the room, she saw a door with multiple deadbolts. The fourth wall had a fireplace surrounded by built-in shelves full of books.
Panic began to bubble up again. Mark’s safe house. What has happened? Where is Mark?
She swung her legs off the couch. Barefoot but otherwise fully dressed, she scanned the room. No sign of Mark. No indication of how she got here. She found her backpack in the chair by the window. Digging through it, she located her phone. Dead. And no sign of her charger.
She stood up again and took a deep breath. Mark had told her if she was ever in danger to go to the cabin. He jokingly called it his fishing getaway, but in reality, it was a safe house. Reinforced, bullet-proof windows, steel frame and door covered by a wood exterior, and stocked with provisions. If anyone saw it, they would have just seen a small, nondescript cabin, which is exactly what Mark intended. But the odds of anyone actually stumbling across it? Unlikely. It was a perfect safe house—nondescript, off the main route, and not on any map.
She rubbed her aching head again. Now awake, she could feel a goose egg on her right temple. What had happened? She slipped on her shoes and walked towards the door.
She realized she had been hearing gunshots echoing through the woods and they were getting closer. She tried to breathe. She knew hunting was not allowed in these woods. They had found her. Where is Mark? Please don’t let that be Mark they’re shooting at.
She dashed to her backpack and shoved her phone back in. If they’re this close, she thought, they’ll see the cabin for sure and they must know I’m here. I have to escape.
She knelt to the ground by the corner of the window and slowly moved the curtain. Flashes of light shone through the woods. She could dimly make out a couple of shadowy figures. They would find the cabin within minutes. She dropped the curtain and raced to the lamp turning it off. Cursing herself, she blinked several times waiting for her eyes to adjust again to the darkness.
With one hand in front of her, she groped her way to the fireplace. Then took three steps to the right. Inspired by speakeasies, Mark had also built a panic room complete with a hidden door and an alternative escape tunnel. At the time, she thought he had been paranoid, but now she knew he understood the danger so much better than she had. She knelt on the floor trying to find the right book. Second to bottom shelf, fifth book from the right. Got it.
Footsteps sounded on the deck. She strained to hear the murmured talk. She knew it would take them a bit to get in, but she had to move. Time was not on her side. She had to go now. Mark or no Mark. That’s what he told her. That’s what he made her promise.
She pulled the book out and found the hidden switch. The door swung silently open. She carefully replaced the book, listened for one more second, and then entered the safe house’s panic room. If she hadn’t been running for her life, she would have laughed at the fact that a safe house had a panic room. She closed the door, bolting it behind her. Even if they found the hidden door, it would still take them time to access the little room. She grabbed a pack of supplies and headed toward the back wall. She could hear the mercenaries at the cabin door trying to break in. She took a deep breath, opened the tunnel door and climbed in. She started moving as quickly as she could, stumbling as she tried to navigate the dark passage.
She jolted awake. What was that? Sweating, her heart raced. Hadn’t she just been somewhere else? She groggily tried to remember. “Alexa, turn the lamp on.” A soft glow lit the room. She saw the book that she had been reading laying sprawled open on the floor. Ah, that was the noise. She took a deep breath and reassured herself, it was just a dream. I fell asleep reading. She inhaled deeply to clear the lingering shadows. The fear, the panic, it had seemed so real. She reached for her phone. The screen glowed 1:34 am. A text notification appeared. She opened the text app. Time-stamped 1:33 am from Mark, all it said was RUN! in all caps. Her eyes shot open, she leapt out of bed, crammed her feet in the nearest shoes and grabbed her backpack. Footsteps clomped on the stairs. She headed toward the fire escape. She had to make it to the cabin.