Mud, wet and stinking. Filthy hair clinging to her cheeks, to the tears and rain on her face. Roots drip from the earthen hole that surrounds her. She shudders, curled protectively around her belly, gasping for breath. Thunder. Lightening. Bolts from the sky stained with red and blue lights from the cop cars.

“I’m a bug,” she whispers. Just a doodle bug rolled into a small ball in the black dirt. Hard shell outward to ward off enemies. Soft underbelly sucked in close to her spine.
The creek rises outside of her hole in the earth, past the tree roots that curtain her refuge. Water reaches the opening, trickles in. If she stays, she will drown. If she leaves, she will die. If she dies, her baby dies.

“You have to,” Katja says. “You have to be brave for the baby. We’ll be fine. You’ll tell the police. They’ll get us out. Go, now, quickly. Go!”

Then gunshots echo in the basement, and red like a bloody mouth gaped beneath Katja’s breasts, and Lily was running, running, and no one would believe her. Not the police. Not Katja’s friend. No one. She’d tried. And it was all her fault. All of it. If she’d been a good girl, then …

“Be a good girl,” her father whispered, his voice reaching her through the pain. “Let Jesus into your heart again and he will cleanse you of this sin. He will forgive you. I will forgive you. But you must repent.”

Author’s Aside:
Flashbacks. Always tricky. How much to reveal? Which tense to use? Yet I love them.

Pain tore through her, ripped from her spine through her abdomen, spasmed through her legs to her toes. Lily screamed and sat up. But she wasn’t in the hole by the creek, nor still in the prison of the basement. She was in a crumbling ruin of a room, with Franco kneeling over her, his face gaunt and worried.

“What do I do?” he asked. “MayBe? What do we do now? Should I get her? You said not to, but I don’t know what else to do.”

And she nodded. Avril wouldn’t want to help her if she knew. Would hate her. But to save her baby, Lily would have to pretend. To lie. She was good at that, wasn’t she?

Lily tried to catch her breath as the pain retreated again. She felt lightheaded, with pain, fear, hunger. Franco left her, but she barely noticed. She laid back. Her ears were ringing. God, she was going to die here, wasn’t she? Die alone in a dark room with a dead baby spilled out between her legs in pool of blood and—

She sucked in a breath as another pain shot through her. Above her silent scream of agony, she heard a crash, then a shriek from somewhere in the house.

“You call this a stairway, boy?” The high voice had husky undertones. “This here’s a death trap, that’s what it is. Worse than plastic pieces snapped together like that Mousetrap game. You know what game I’m talking about, boy? Of course you don’t. You just a baby, you.”

Then the speaker was standing in the doorway of Lily’s room, the form outlined by the flickering light that spilled in from the alley lamppost. Short skirt, long hair, seven inch heels, and broad muscular shoulders.

“Lily May Beckett,” the creature said. “You making me risk life and limb to get up here just cause you scared of some hospital? What’s wrong with you, girl?”

Avril. The thought of the woman brought a fear even greater than knowing she might die. What would Avril do if she knew? Then another contraction ripped through Lily and all thought fled.

“Lil? You okay, Lil?” Franco dropped to his knees and took her hand in both of his. She squeezed his fingers so hard he yelped. She didn’t care, though. It wasn’t him had a knife tearing its way out of her body with slash after slash.

“Avril, damnit,” Franco yelled. “Do something. Do something.”

“Darlin’, I don’t know what makes you think I can help matters. You forget I ain’t got the same equipment as her? I know I look all Xena Warrior Princess on the outside—” She tossed her hair over one shoulder and batted her eyelashes. “But you do remember there’s a surprise curled up under my skirt here, now don’t you, hon?”

Lily screamed as she pulled her knees up and gave in to a need to push, to shit this baby out of her no matter the cost, no matter what happened before or after. The only thing that mattered was push, breath, push, breath, push!

“You can do it, hon. Good girl.” Katja? Avril?

“Mom?” Lily sobbed. “Mom, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

You have to be brave for the baby. But she wasn’t brave. She was a liar, and a murderer. A sinner. The only person who’d ever tried to help her was dead because of her. Blood dripping from her fingers, surprise on her face.

“Katja,” Lily breathed as blessed darkness washed over her.

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