Skyheart Ranch

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Fight or Flight

Katie

Cold. Darkness and cold. A pounding inside her head. Katie couldn’t figure out what happened or where she was. It was so cold. And there was no light anywhere.

‘Wh-what? What’s going on? Oh god, my head. Why does my head hurt so much? It’s so cold. Why would the house be so cold? Ruby always keeps it at-Ruby! Ruby was hurt! Bleeding in the kitchen. And then...something happened... Why can’t I think? Why can’t I re-wait, there was someone in the house. They grabbed me and-Damien! Damien was there! He hurt Ruby, he put something over my face. I must have passed out. Oh god. Where am I? Where did he take me?’

Katie groaned, trying to straighten out her sore body. She realized her feet were tied together and her hands were tied in front of her. There was something over her eyes, blocking out all the light. She tried to free her hands, squeeze them past whatever was holding them together, but all she felt was a deep pain. Her head was still pounding.

‘Where is he? If he was here, he would have started taunting and hurting me. He left me somewhere. Think, Katie! Where could he have left you that no one on the ranch would find?’

Katie listened, but all she heard was wind blowing across thin, wooden walls. The boards were rattling. Katie started wiggling her head, pushing the blindfold higher and higher until she managed to get it on her forehead. The tiny shack was dark, with the only light coming fm the cracks in the boards and under the door. Katie was on the floor against the back wall, only wearing her jeans, shoes, and a sweater, which explained why she was so cold.

‘This looks familiar. Are we still on the ranch? Then Cash will find me! He just needs time.’

Katie looked around again, her eyes adjusting to the light. When she could finally see clearly, a shudder of fear went down her spine. The walls were covered with pictures. She was in almost all of them, but there were a few that just had the hands, the barns, and the big house. There were quite a few of just Cash as well. The pictures were all recent, just January and February, but there were enough of them to cover all the walls. There weren’t any pictures taken from inside the house, but there were clearly a lot taken through the windows.

‘He’s been here for months!’ Katie thought, terrified. ‘He’s been watching us!’

Katie felt bile rising in her throat and she took deep breaths to keep it down. The last thing she needed was to be stuck laying in her own vomit. She was briefly surprised she wasn’t gagged, but quickly figured out yelling wouldn’t accomplish anything. The wind would carry away her screams and if she started yelling for help, she was positive Damien would hear her. Being cold and tied up wasn’t ideal, but at least Damien wasn’t there to hurt her.

‘Where is he? He wouldn’t have gone to so much trouble, he wouldn’t have been watching the house, if he just planned on leaving me here to freeze.’

That thought stopped Katie for a second. She could easily freeze if she was out here all night. The temperature had been diving into the single digits every night and she didn’t even have a coat or gloves. She could easily get frostbite on her fingers, toes, or face.

‘Okay, okay, let’s focus on problems I can solve. I can’t magically get a coat or blanket. First off, is there anything I can use as a weapon?’

Katie looked around the shack, but everything was pretty minimal. There were planks of wood nailed to the walls to create benches and a table near the door with a small radiator under it. She couldn’t see what was on the table lying down, so she struggled upright, finally sitting up.

‘This must be one of those emergency shelters Cash told me about. They’re all over the ranch in case a storm comes up and the hands can’t make it to the main houses or the barns in time. They’re supposed to have water and packaged jerky, but I don’t see anything.’

Katie frowned, still looking around. She swung her tied legs around, getting them underneath her so she could shuffle to the table on her knees. There was a radio, but not one she could use to call someone on the ranch. Coils of rope covered an entire corner of the table and electrical tape was stacked next to it. There were rags, some long enough to use as a blindfold or gag, but nothing else. No knives, no scissors, nothing.

Katie leaned back, bending her knees so she could sit on top of her legs. She started looking at the walls meticulously, floor to ceiling. Finally, near the back wall, underneath the bench, she saw three nail heads stick out of the wall. Katie grinned and shuffled over to the bench, swinging her legs back around so she was flat on the floor. She lifted her tied hands over her head and started using the nail heads to cut the rope.

It was slow-going. The nail heads weren’t sharp and the rope was thick. However, continuously moving her arms was keeping her warm, so Katie just tried to focus on the rope and listening for any sounds of someone approaching the shack.

Katie wasn’t sure how long she’d been sawing at the rope; long enough that it was looser and she might be able to pull a hand free if the rope had a little more give. She suddenly heard footsteps crunching in the snow outside. She quickly pulled her hands down and scooted toward the back wall, making sure her back was pressed against it. She put her hands over her abdomen to protect it and pulled her knees up to cover her hands and give herself more padding, basically curling up in the fetal position. After a minute, the door opened, blowing in snow, cold air, and Damien Crawley.

He walked in, not even looking at Katie. She was shocked by his appearance. Damien always put in a huge effort to look polished and respectable. The man standing at the table had a scruffy beard and his black hair was messy and greasy, hanging almost down his neck. He was dressed in layers, but the clothes weren’t designer or even name-brand. They looked old and wrinkled, with holes in his coat’s elbows and snow pant’s knees. He dropped a heavy bag on the table, making Katie jump.

“It’s about time you woke up,” Damien said, still not looking at Katie. “I was beginning to think I used too much chloroform. There were directions, something about the weight of the animal, how long you wanted it out, such nonsense. But I knew I could do it.” Damien finally turned and sneered at Katie. “Out of all the places you could have gone, why the fuck did you come to some western hellhole?”

“Because I knew you’d never come to a place like this,” Katie retorted. Damien’s eyes widened at Katie’s response, surprised she even answered at all. She sat up, still holding her hands on her abdomen and pulling her knees up closer to her body.

“How did you find me?” Katie demanded. “I’ve been careful. No social media. No pictures online. I haven’t even googled you or your family.”

“Don’t you think I know that, you stupid bitch? Ever since you disappeared, we’ve had computer hackers searching for you. Your name, any search history that might lead us to you, scanning faces in pictures. They couldn’t find a thing.” Then Damien gave Katie a mocking smile. “Well, they couldn’t find anything until some picture popped up of a couple at a Christmas tree farm in Billings. The little computer shits didn’t find the picture until the end of December. But there you were, in the background, smiling like you didn’t have a fucking care in the world.”

Damien turned to the wall of pictures hanging over the table, looking for one. Katie had turned pale.

‘I didn’t even think about being in the backgrounds of pictures,’ Katie thought. ‘God, I’m such an idiot! If I had just stayed on the ranch, this never would have happened.’

But Katie knew deep down that she couldn’t have stayed hidden away on the ranch forever. Eventually, she would have left to go to town or somewhere else and she couldn’t control whether people took pictures around her. As she was rationalizing, Damien tore a picture off the wall and stomped over to Katie, shoving it in her face. The focus was a young couple, grinning in front of a tree. However, in the background, clear as day, was Katie smiling at Cash as Ruby walked ahead of them. Katie turned her head away, not wanting to look at it.

“What’s the matter, kitten?” Damien asked sarcastically. “Don’t you like it? You look so happy, I’d think you haven’t been missing me at all.”

“I haven’t missed you,” Katie said, glaring up at Damien. “I haven’t missed a single thing about you.” Damien looked shocked, then started laughing maliciously.

“Well, well. Looks like my little kitten has grown back her claws.” Faster than Katie could react, Damien backhanded her across the face. “Don’t worry, you worthless cunt. Soon you won’t have a single bad thing to say about me.” Damien started laughing again as he walked back to the table. Katie’s eyes had filled with tears after that hit, but she refused to let them fall.

‘He won’t break me again. I’m stronger now. I have people who love me, who’ll be looking for me. I just need to stay strong until they get here.’

Katie closed her eyes, sending up a silent plea to whoever was listening: let Cash find her. Let everyone at Skyheart find their way to this little shack.

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