“How do I get him to change his mind about Fila?”
Neither brother could answer that.
“A six hour drive?” Fila repeated when Ned broke the news about going to the cabin. She hugged her arms across her chest trying to squelch the worry that had bloomed there since last night. Holt had made it all too clear he wanted her to leave. Going to a remote cabin would be a respite from him, but it wouldn’t change anything permanently. She’d still have to deal with his dislike of her when they got back.
“Pack for more than four days, just in case,” Ned told her. “Anything can happen up there. It might take a couple of days to get everything dug out and most of a day each way to travel. Bring shirts, pants, sweaters, underthings. Lots of warm gear.”
Fila nodded reluctantly. She wondered if she should return to Ethan and Autumn’s place instead. Surely going with Ned would just antagonize Holt more.
But she didn’t want to give in to the old man, either. She wanted to stay with Ned. She’d grown accustomed to him.
“When you’re done, would you check through what I’ve packed from the kitchen? You might think of something I’ve missed.”
She nodded again. She headed upstairs, worry dogging her, but the act of packing calmed her somewhat. Maybe she and Ned could come up with a plan while they were there. Maybe the heavy physical work would distract her. Maybe fresh air and exercise were exactly what she needed, even if it meant going off into the wilderness.
She ended up repacking the kitchen gear entirely, taking out all the prepared boxed food Ned had included and substituting whole foods she could cook real meals from. That was one thing she hadn’t gotten used to since coming home; the salt-laden fatty foods Americans seemed to subsist on. Even the ones she remembered fondly from her childhood tasted wrong now. She used to love macaroni and cheese. Now it tasted… well… awful.
“Ready? Let’s get going,” Ned said when he rejoined her.
Fila nodded, a thread of fear creeping in at the thought of the long drive, the unfamiliar terrain. The empty cabin. What if something happened to her? What if she was attacked? What if men with guns came and—
No. Autumn would call this catastrophic thinking, a phrase Fila understood even if she couldn’t reliably spell it yet. Allowing a small fear to balloon into a huge one, until it blocked out common sense and made you act irrationally. There were no Taliban fighters here. She was in no danger with Ned.
Just like the famous quote Autumn had told her to remember, the only thing she had to fear was fear itself.
Late that afternoon, Ned threw his truck into 4 x 4 mode and drove off the main road onto an unmarked, snow-covered track that led into a sparse pine forest. A glance at Fila told him she was still sitting stiffly in the passenger seat, one hand now clinging to the handle of the door. She hadn’t spoken much during their drive, which wasn’t anything new, but still worried him. He knew she hadn’t ridden in a vehicle much at all when she was in Afghanistan. The sensation still seemed to bother her. She probably didn’t relish traveling into a remote, mountainous area in the dead of winter, either, but what could he do? He couldn’t leave her back in Chance Creek.
“It’s going to get bumpy for a while,” he warned her. “Hang on, okay?”
“Are you sure this is safe?” she asked as he gunned the motor and powered through the deep snow on the track.
“I’ve done this a hundred times. It’s slow going but we’ll get there just fine.”
It took nearly another hour and a half to advance the eighteen miles on the snow-covered dirt road to reach the steeply plunging driveway that led off of it to the left down to the cabin. He started down it carefully, but the truck’s tires slid as the driveway curved and Ned cursed, hitting the gas and turning the wheel sharply to avoid sliding off the track.
A quick intake of breath told him he’d scared Fila again. Ned gritted his teeth and kept going, inching forward. The snow was deeper than he’d imagined down here. They might have trouble getting back out. He’d seen a weather report, though; temperatures were due to rise in a few days. The snow would melt, which meant the way out would still be bumpy, but passable. If they had to stay an extra day or two, so much the better. He could use the alone time with Fila.
“There it is,” he said, pointing to the roof of the log cabin that had just come into view. “My father used to take us boys up here every year to give my mother a week of peace. We loved—shit!”
The driveway curved back up here and he had just goosed the engine again to plow through a particularly deep bank of snow when the truck hit a patch of hidden ice, stalled in place, then found purchase again and shot forward unexpectedly.
“Fila!” Ned shouted as they surged over the side of the track. The land dropped sharply away and Ned braced himself as the truck fell through the air, then hit the earth nose-first with a crash that shook every bone in his body. The left front fender crumpled as it took the brunt of the impact and a searing pain ripped through Ned’s leg. Something snapped. Fila shrieked as the truck flipped over, throwing Ned against its roof.
The world went black.
Rough hands smothered her in a burka, pulling the sky-blue fabric over her head and wrapping its folds around her so tightly she couldn’t breathe.
Fila fought back, thrashing her arms and kicking her legs, but she was pinned in place, the fabric of the burka cutting off her air.
“Stop it!” she cried in Pashto, her mouth filling with soft, fuzzy fluff that choked her until she pushed it back with her tongue. “Stop!” Her mouth filled again and Fila writhed and fought, but the unseen captors’ hands held her in place and her head pounded with her racing blood.
Once again she used her tongue to clear her mouth and this time she opened her eyes. When strength failed, it was time for cunning. Maybe if she relaxed, she’d fool her captors into letting go. She forced her muscles to go slack. At first the world was dark, as of course it would be beneath the all-covering burka. Where was the mesh that let her see out? Was the garment on backwards? Were they trying to kill her? She pushed back at the panic overwhelming her. One of her arms was pinned to her side, but the other was free. She began to feel around.
There was light but it was above her head, as if she was seeing out of a tunnel, and now that she thought about it, it wasn’t burka cloth that surrounded her. This was too warm, too soft. It was…she batted with her free hand.