“This is all because of me.” Fila tugged free, but Rose flung herself forward and caught her ankle as she stood up. She jerked it hard and Fila crashed to the ground with a cry of pain.
Shouting erupted from all sides. Fila yanked her leg free again and scrambled forward on all fours. Rose went after her, but Hannah cried out, “No. Rose, stop!” as the gunfire intensified. While Hannah held her back, she watched in horror as Fila stood up to her full height and began to shout.
Cab’s worst nightmare had come to life. Gunfire rang out from all sides, he couldn’t see a thing in the dark, two of his friends were hurt and his backup was missing. When the gunman began to call out, at first he thought Cab might be asking for a truce, but the tone of the man’s voice soon disabused him of that notion. He was haranguing someone. Calling them out.
Calling Fila out. The mystery woman. Cab was sure of it.
What would he say in this situation if he were the gunman? Come on out. We won’t hurt your friends. Would Fila be smart enough to understand the game? Or would she fall for it and expose Rose, too?
Stay put, stay put, stay put, he willed at her, but when Rose cried out, he knew it was all over.
“No! Don’t move! Whatever he’s saying, don’t you listen, Fila!” Rose shouted. A scuffle, more shouted words, and a lithe, dark shape rose up in the middle of the gunfight. It called out in a woman’s voice.
Cab wished he knew what she was saying because her words chilled him to the bone like nothing else had this night. She didn’t plead or cry or show any sign of weakness. She was giving it back to the man as good as she’d got. The minute she started speaking, the gunfire cut out. At first silence greeted her words, then a babble of foreign male voices. A shot rang out. Another burst of gunfire.
“Rose, stay down,” Cab yelled. “All of you stay down!” He whipped around to face the source of the shots, squeezed off several of his own. A man cried out, something dropped to the ground and all was still again.
Fila, silenced a moment, began again, a river of shouted words he thought could skin a man alive. The other gunmen shouted back at her, furious replies to her harangue. They were moving, Cab realized. Bunching together. He called out a warning, just as the three men burst forward in a blaze of gunfire. His own friends returned fire from all sides, but Cab knew the women couldn’t last in this kind of fight. Abandoning reason, he threw himself toward them, his only goal to get between Rose and the bullets.
As the gunmen raced forward, and the distance between them and Fila, between them and Rose shortened, Cab knew his cause was lost. He couldn’t reach Rose in time. Couldn’t stop these monsters. Couldn’t…
A new sound shook the ground and at first Cab thought it was a bigger gun. He felt the shudders through the dirt beneath him. They vibrated through the soles of his feet, to his ankles, to his calves, to his knees. Something was coming.
“We’ve got to stop her. She’s going to get killed!” Rose cried as Hannah kept her from dashing after Fila.
When Fila began to shout at the gunmen, Rose fell back with a cry of fear. As tears rolled down her face, the forest filled with shouts and gunfire. The foreign men were grouping together. Pushing forward.
Coming for Fila.
One of the foreigners yelped in pain and there was confusion for a moment, but then the gunmen regrouped and pressed forward again. All the time Fila yelled streams of angry words back at them. The men answered, their guttural syllables as rough and frightening as their bullets.
Rose raised her hands to her face. Wanted to hide her eyes but couldn’t. She could hardly see Fila in the darkness or make out anything else for that matter, except the sound of the weapons firing all around her.
“Oh, my God,” Hannah gasped. “Oh no.” She got to her knees.
Now Rose felt it too; something rumbling through the ground at them. An earthquake? Thunder?
“It’s Gladys,” Hannah said.
A high-pitched scream pierced the air and Fila crashed to the ground. The gunmen surged forward in a clash of shouts and gunfire.
A man bowled into Rose from the opposite direction, knocking her flat to the dirt. “Stay down,” Cab hissed in her ear. Hannah huddled close to her and Cab flung an arm around them both.
The bison charged past, its hooves flashing, clattering against the hard-packed ground. The gunmen’s shouts turned questioning. Fearful.
They scattered as Gladys charged through them. Rose heard the sickening crack of broken bone, a piercing shout and then silence.
A second later, voices echoed all around them. Men in uniform flooded the forest. Above them, the whirr of a helicopter’s rotary blades split the air and a bright light turned night into day.
Rose wept with relief and terror as Cab held her. Police, deputies, and SWAT team members streamed toward them, flowing through the forest. Overrunning her sanctuary.
Rose clung to Cab as the world lurched, tipped, and finally went dark.
“Come back to us, sister. Let us make a gift of you to our brother-in-arms. These infidels will suck out your soul and poison you with their capitalist ways. Give your heart to Allah. Rejoin us, your brothers. Remember the true path!”
Wahid’s voice had thundered through the night air, cutting through the gunfire like a knife aimed at her heart and Fila knew that she couldn’t hide and risk the lives of the women who’d tried to save her. When she stood up, she didn’t expect to survive, but before she died she was determined to finally answer back to Wahid and the rest of the men who had stolen her life.
“You don’t know Allah. You don’t know God. You think you’re martyrs and instead you are nothing! Don’t you have eyes to see? Ears to hear? A heart to feel? Haven’t you noticed the screams and tears of the women you pretend to protect? Haven’t you realized we’re just as real as you are? A woman isn’t a gift—she is a person. I am a person and I say no to you! I was never the woman you thought I was. I was never cowed. I never believed in your cause. And I am living proof that in the end you will fail!”
She expected every moment one of the bullets to tear her heart from her chest, but when the pain came it was her shoulder instead. Although the impact dropped her to the ground, the doctors now assured her she would recover fully. Her assailants had been captured. One had been killed.
It was over—ten long years of terror, hiding, running—over. For the first time in days she drifted into a heavy sleep.