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Nick watched in shock as Brendan reeled back, clutching his stomach. When he pulled his hand back, Nick could see bright red blood covering it. Blood had already seeped through his gray t-shirt. Gasping, Brendan sunk to his knees, then collapsed to the floor.

Nick just stared in disbelief, as his foe lay curled in a ball on the floor, wreathing in pain. He had caused it. He had actually stabbed someone.

But then, looking at Kevin, who was just now waking up, Nick remembered why he had done it. It was self-defense, he told himself with confidence.

“Kevin,” he called, hurrying over to his fallen friend.

Kevin sat up slowly and gingerly touched his face. His eye was already beginning to swell, and Nick knew it would be black and blue in a short while.

“You okay, Kev?” Nick asked, reaching a hand down to help the older man up.

“Yeah,” Kevin said softly, looking around in confusion. He took Nick’s hand and got to his feet. Then he looked over at Brendan. “You did that, Nicky?” he asked.

“Yeah. It was self-defense!” Nick protested.

“Hey, I didn’t say anything,” Kevin said, holding up his hands. “That asshole deserved it. He’s the one that attacked AJ!”

Nick’s mouth dropped open, and he turned to glare at the bleeding man on the floor, while wicked thoughts ran through his head. That mother f***ing bastard! I’m glad I stabbed him! In fact, I hope he dies!

“Come on; we need to go call the police,” Kevin said, grabbing Nick’s shirt and tugging him along.

Nick nodded absently and followed Kevin towards the door. He couldn’t help but give Brendan a little kick on the way out. Brendan let out a moan of agony, but Nick didn’t care. He just gave Brendan a little smirk and followed Kevin out the door.


Meanwhile, Leighanne pulled into the driveway of the run-down little house out in the middle of nowhere that “Brian” had stopped at just days earlier.

Please, God, let him be here, she pleaded, terrified of what she might find inside the house. Now, remember, Leighanne had not had much sleep the night before, which was probably why she was going all alone to the doorstep of an unfamiliar house that might be the home of Brian’s kidnapper. Common sense was the last thing she cared about at that point.

What do I do now? Leighanne wondered, when she had made it to the front door. She shrugged and tried the doorknob. To her relief, it was unlocked. Out in the country like this, she supposed people wouldn’t bother to keep their doors locked.

Please, don’t let there be anyone here, Leighanne silently pleaded, thinking of any accomplices Brian’s twin might have had.

Taking a deep, shuddering breath, she silently turned the knob and pushed the door open. She found herself inside a dark, tiny living room, which reeked of a sickening blend of mothballs, fried chicken, sweat, and B.O.

Trying not to gag, she made her way through the living room and into a kitchen. Her shoes crunched down on the layer of grit that covered the kitchen floor, and she wrinkled her nose at the piles of dirty dishes, greasy fast food containers, and beer cans that littered the counters.

Next, she went down a short, narrow hallway that led to two tiny bedrooms and a bathroom. One was a virtual storage closet, with heaps of cardboard boxes and pieces of furniture covered with sheets. The other contained a twin bed with stained yellowish-white sheets, a cheap dresser, and some other tacky mismatched furniture.

No sign of Brian or anyone else yet.

She peeked into the bathroom on the way back up the hall and found it to be just as tiny and gross as the rest of the house. Back in the kitchen, there was another door, which led to a flight of stairs.

She went down the stairs to the basement, her heart pounding. If he was anywhere in this house, he would be in that basement.

Towards the bottom of the stairs, there was a landing and a corner to turn. Leighanne made it to the landing and sucked in a breath, afraid of what she was going to see when she turned the corner.

Swallowing hard, she turned the corner. It was very dim in the room she found herself gazing into, too dim to really see anything. But there was a light switch on the wall next to her. And so, she flipped on the light. And when she looked back into the room, her mouth dropped open. And then she let out an earth-shattering scream.



It was Brian.

He was indeed in the basement, just as Leighanne had hoped. But the situation he was in was worse than she had expected.

He lay flat on his back on a twin bed with a bare mattress on it, his arms and legs stretched out from his body, his wrists and ankles tied, his whole body bound down. His skin was pasty white, and there were dark circles under his eyes. His body looked bonier than she remembered, and his cheekbones jutted out from his gaunt face, making him look more like a skeleton than a flesh-and-blood human. His hair was plastered to his head with grease and perspiration, and his skin was soiled with dirt, sweat, and tears.

Leighanne choked back a sob as she ran to him. Her first thought was that he was dead. But as she got closer, she saw that it was not so, and her knees went weak with relief. His slow, ragged breathing told her that he was alive, but barely.

“Oh, Brian,” Leighanne sobbed, reaching a shaking hand out towards her husband. But she drew it back, too fearful to even touch him in his weakened condition. He looked fragile enough to break.

“Ambulance,” Leighanne muttered subconsciously, looking around for a phone. She saw none.

“Brian, I need to go find a phone upstairs. I’ll be right back,” she told him, even though Brian was unconscious and could not hear her.

Scared to leave him, but even more terrified of not getting help in time, she turned and raced up the stairs to the main floor of the house. She found a phone in the kitchen, but to her despair, it was dead.

Struggling to keep from crying, she raced out to her car, knowing she had a cell phone in her purse. She got to the car, flung open the door, and grabbed her purse from the front seat. She dug through it blindly, tossing Kleenex, makeup, and mints every which way as she scavenged for her phone. She found it finally, yanked it out, and turned it on. Her heart sank as she saw that it was not charged up.

The phone was dead.

“No!” she cried. “Please, don’t do this to me!” Bursting into tears, she hurled the phone down and started to run back into the house.

But something lying in the driveway caught her eye and made her stop and turn back to look. It was a little pair of scissors that she kept in her purse, one of the things she had tossed out while looking for the phone. But they would help her out now more than the phone could. Picking them up and running into the house, she felt a new sense of hope come over her. She could do this. She could get Brian out herself.

Blinking back her panicked tears, Leighanne hurried down the steps to the basement and over to the bed. With the scissors, she sawed away at the cords that tied Brian down and managed to slice them away from Brian’s wrists and ankles. Then she cut the cord going across his torso so that his body was free.

“Okay,” Leighanne said breathlessly, surveying the situation. She was going to have to get her unconscious husband off of the bed, across the room, up the stairs, and all the way out to her car. She swallowed nervously. It was going to be tough. But she could do it. She had to. It was either that, or Brian was going to die.

Ignoring the sweat, the dirt, and the smell surrounding Brian, Leighanne slid her hand under his back and pulled him up into a sitting position. His head hung forward limply, and she had to hold onto him to keep him from collapsing back down again. Breathing hard, she held him up with one arm and slid the other under his legs. Then, grunting with exertion, she hoisted him up from the bed.

Brian was heavy, but not as heavy as she had imagined. She wasn’t sure if it was because he had lost so much weight or because of the adrenaline surging through her body, but somehow, she managed to carry him.

Her back and arms aching with each step, she carried him to the stairs and painstakingly went up, taking each step slowly. When she made it to the top of the stairs, she let out a breath of relief; the worst was over. Then, at the high of her adrenaline rush, she carried him through the kitchen, through the living room, and out the front door.

When she finally made it to the car, she nearly collapsed with relief. She let Brian’s lower half down, still supporting his back with her right arm, and used her left to open the back door of the car. Then she carefully slid Brian into the car so that he was lying across the backseat. She slammed the door shut and hurried around to the driver’s side. She got in, shut the door, started the car, and headed for the nearest hospital.


The heart monitor beeped in a constant, rhythmic pattern, sending a thin green line peaking and falling steadily across the screen. The respirator hissed over and over again. The IV dripped slowly. And Kevin, staring at the pale man in the bed, cried.

Why AJ? he asked himself over and over again. Why not me instead? Kevin would have given anything to trade places with his younger friend, putting himself in that hospital bed instead of AJ. But he could not. He could only sit there. And wait. And pray.

It had been hours since he and Nick had called the police. Brendan had been rushed to the hospital, and he, Nick, and Howie had been briefly questioned. As it turned out, Nick had heard Kevin and Brendan yelling at each other and had known something was very wrong. He had gotten a key to the room from downstairs and come up to see what was going on.

Now Nick, Howie, and Kevin were at the hospital, with AJ. They had spoken to AJ’s surgeon, who had informed them that although AJ’s surgery had gone well, he was not out of the woods yet. He had been stabbed twice, and both times, the knife had missed his spinal cord by centimeters. One stab had punctured his lung though, causing him to go into respiratory arrest. There had been other internal damage done, but the doctors hoped they had fixed it all. Still, they were uncertain as to whether he would make it or not.


Kevin turned around suddenly to see that Howie had come into the room.

“Sorry to bother you, but Leighanne just called,” Howie said, shifting nervously.

Kevin bit his lip. He could tell just by the expression in Howie’s big brown eyes that something was wrong. And he had a good idea of what that something was.

“Brian?” he asked, his voice hoarse and shaky from crying.

Howie nodded.

“Is it bad?” Kevin asked worriedly.

Howie pressed his lips together grimly. And he nodded again.


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