As their rescuer pushed her toward the yawning hole in the floor, she pulled back in protest. “I-I can’t! I won’t go down there. The dark—”
“We don’t have time for you to be afraid of the dark.” The man gestured at the escape. “Hiding down there is your only hope. Get going.”
“It’s the only way, Mom.” Marc gave her a pat on the shoulder as he stepped past her. “I’ll go down first. It’ll be okay.”
Being claustrophobic was only part of her problem. Hamad’s small flashlight did little to light Marc’s descent. The hole was just over eight feet deep, and the ladder filled most of the available space. It was going to be a tight fit for all three of them.
“Mom, please!” Marc’s head and shoulders were still above the ground, and he reached for her ankle, pulling her closer to the ladder.
The sounds of the riot crept nearer. Jennifer took a deep breath and stretched a reluctant hand toward the ladder. With a last frightened glance toward the noises outside, she began her descent. The little cellar smelled of musty damp earth, and she felt the walls closing in on her as her feet touched the ground. Marc pulled her away from the ladder as their rescuer slid down after her. Quickly Hamad kicked the door shut. They heard him shuffling back and forth as he replaced his wares. Small showers of dirt rained down on them as he moved around his tiny shop.
What do we do now? Jennifer’s heart was pounding in her chest until she was sure Marc and their rescuer could feel it too. The space was so narrow she stood wedged between the dirt wall and the rough edge of the ladder. Marc pressed a reassuring hand against her shoulder, and she was uncomfortably aware that the buttons on their rescuer’s shirt brushed against her cheek when she moved her head.
Sounds from above ground were muffled and the cellar seemed fairly well insulated, but the man still cautioned them against any noise. The darkness was complete and smothering as far as Jennifer was concerned. If she was so scared, she could imagine the fear Marc must be feeling. She reached out and fumbled for his hand, trying to reassure herself as well as him.
Marc’s grip was firm, and he gave her trembling hand a comforting squeeze. She marveled when she felt the strong, steady cadence of his pulse beating through his fingertips. Willing herself to calm down, she drew a deep breath and filled her nostrils with the damp, cool scent of earth. It didn’t work, and nauseating fear welled up inside her.
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