Jana woke suddenly, her eyes wide open - total silence but for the receding memory of a sound in her mind. She lay still, her only company the pale light of the moon and shadows swaying on the opposite wall.
Straining to every sound she could hear the wooden floors groan as the last of the days heat escaped into the night and the relentless beat of the clock working its way through the increments of a minute. And beneath the immediate sounds the cacophony of the night - the wind in the trees, predators foraging. The call of a bird and its lost child.
These were familiar to Jana because they were the sounds of every night, but her instincts warned of something else. Slowly pulling the sheets away from her body Jana swung her naked legs out of the bed, the souls of her feet onto the cold wooden floor. Never taking her eyes from the bedroom door and its handle.
If there really was someone outside the room, then they had negotiated Dimitri downstairs. Which meant they were also extremely capable. Her mind immediately reached out to her daughter in the next room.
Clamping a long wooden pin between her teeth she gently pulled the pistol from her bedside draw, a comforting and familiar feel in the palm of her hand. Using the pad of her thumb she pushed the safety off and stepped towards the door. Quietly, softly, slowly. Eyes constantly fixed on the door handle.
With one long pace remaining she paused, sifting through the familiar sounds for the unfamiliar. It was there – the murmur of material sliding across material. Silence. And then again, as if someone slowly and meticulously stepping across an unknown floor. The sound almost lost to the hum of silence. There was no way to tell whether it was just the other side of the door, or outside her daughter's. Winding her long hair into a bunch onto the back of her head, she pulled the pin from her mouth. Her mistake.
The door sprung silently, wide open. A dark human shape flowed through the gap and immediately onto her. Striking something hard across her right cheek. The force pin-wheeling her body around and sprawling. Both gun and pin were lost from her grasp, clattering across the floor.
Her shoulder first painfully hit the wooden edge of the bed before she thumped hard onto the floor but there was no time to dwell on the pain. Gloved hands laced into her hair and dragged her bodily onto the bed, her hands flailing desperately for some potential weapon or leverage but only succeeding in swiping the bedside lamp across the room.
No sooner had she been pulled fully onto the bed, the attacker straddled her. The moonlight catching the dark reflective surface of a cosh at the periphery of her vision just as it swung down painfully across her temple. The blow forcing her mind to abandon all strategy for escape while it desperately hung onto consciousness.
Her goals shifted, now simply focusing on giving her daughter all the time she could to wake and run. They had both drilled her repeatedly. 'Surely she must have heard and would now be climbing out of the window, onto the roof and down into the street. Her baby, precious and not just to her. Run!'
Opening her mouth with the intention of a screamed warning, the cosh was immediately pushed past her lips and forced down to the back of her throat. Gagging, the scream was lost before it even left her lungs. Jana’s mind oscillated out of control, reaching out for panic. She fought to bring it back, focused on the detail. Knowing now this was almost certainly a women, strong and agile and very quick. But not likely to be sidetracked by her body. The cosh gave her practically no room to breath, her tongue unable to move from the back of her throat. Her body instinctively began convulsing in its attempts to draw in oxygen, her attempts to displace the attacker were increasingly futile. She just had no strength with which to muster flailing arms or bucking hips.
Reaching to a belt fastened across her chest, the attacker jerked free a short knife. Partly coated in dark blood, the remaining unblemished metal refracted the soft light of the night as the body lowered itself. Stopping just inches from the fist jammed down against Jana's mouth, beneath her wide angry eyes. Behind the dark mesh hiding the face she could see female features, white skin and a defined bone structure.
“Do not fear, your daughter like you, like your noble guard, will die quickly.” The language was English and the voice soft but with a slight accent that gave the words a harsh edge. It was like nothing she had heard before.
Through failing vision Jana saw the figure sit back, felt the sharp end of the knife pushed against her temple. She was powerless to even move, the women's strong thighs holding her in place, her oxygen starved body barely capable of sucking in enough air to remain conscious. Watching the knife rise to the summit of the impending blow. Her mind whispered a hope that her baby was awake and running as fast as her young legs would carry. And then she made her peace with the world.
The knife began its descent, a deadly glistening descending arc. Jana blinked one last time, the shadow of her attacker leveraging to deliver maximum force. And then being met by a second small shadow traveling at speed from the side. A small shadow illuminated in part by the moons light, a mauve top and a small bare arm breaking the momentum of the swing and the knife while stabbing once, hard at the stockinged head with the other arm. Both shadows noiselessly rolled across the bed and with a single thump onto the floor. Silence.
Spitting and pulling the cosh free and throwing it away Jana leaned over the edge of the bed and looked down into her daughter's wide brown eyes. The stockinged head lay lifeless to one side. The tip of her wooden hairpin protruding from a ear, a stream of blood trickling down the taught mesh and pooling on the floor. Her daughter looked back up at her, fear and battles adrenalin trembling her bottom lip, her body poised. Not sure whether to reach up for a hug or recoil from a rebuke.
“Jane ... baby!” Jana reached down with her arms open. Jane scampered quickly over the body and onto the bed and into her arms.
“Are there more?” She could feel her daughter's head move slowly from side to side, and then a few seconds later felt warm tears drip onto her naked shoulder, Jane's small body trembling in her arms. Silence, save for their own rapid breathing and the relentless progress of the clock. The shadows and pale light oblivious carried on their dance upon the wall.
“Why didn't you run baby, why didn't you run!” She tried hard to pull the rebuke from her tone, which just twisted it to a slightly desperate pitch.
Moments passed. The small arms tighten around her neck, “I couldn't leave you mummy.”
There were no more words not for a long time. Jana just rocked in small motions backwards and forwards. Soothing her child and herself. With each breath that filled her lungs grateful for life. But Dmitri was surely dead, she couldn't go down and see him though, not yet. Who was to protect them now, this precious child. Where was Bowman when she needed him the most?
Submission: 8 July 2007
Revision: 7 June 2008