A voice. Whispering in frustration.
Jaci’s eyes moved rapidly under her eyelids, and then snapped open. She lay on the forest ground staring up at the dark sky, partially obscured by tree leaves.
A twig snapped a few feet from her, and every hair on her body bristled in alarm. Her heart began to pound faster, and she held her breath. Someone was there.
She blinked twice, trying to see. There was a lot of scuffling through the leaves near her feet. She wanted to scream. But she seemed to have lost control of her muscles.
There was a heavy sigh next to her and a hand grabbed her ankle. That did it. Jaci bolted upright and screamed.
A hand went over her mouth and Jaci reached up to tear it away.
“It’s me! It’s Amanda! I’m sorry, it’s just me!”
Jaci closed her eyes, chest heaving in gasping, sporadic sobs.
Sara sat up next to them. “What’s going on?” she asked, her voice nervous. She touched Jaci’s shoulder.
“I frightened her,” Amanda said. She moved closer to Jaci and tried to hug her, but Jaci jerked away.
“Don’t touch me! How could you do that to me?” She put her head in her hands, running her fingernails over her scalp. She’d been so scared. The emotional crash nauseated her.
Sara’s knee clanked against something hard. Reaching down, she turned on a flashlight and picked it up. “Were you looking for this?” she asked Amanda.
Amanda looked at the beam of light. Extending a hand, she took it from Sara. “Jaci, I’m so sorry. I dropped the light and it turned off on me. I was trying to find it. I didn’t mean to frighten you. Honest.”
Jaci took several deep breaths, holding for the count of three before exhaling, just like she did in track before a big race. “I’m okay. I’ll be fine.”
“I know how you feel, Jaci,” Sara said. “I hate it out here, too. I hate it.”
“There’s no one else out here, Sara,” Amanda said, her voice reverting to its self-assured tone. “It’s only us. We’re here for you. You have nothing to worry about.”
Sara whirled on her as if she’d been waiting for that opening. “Oh, so you’ll protect me? Like you did last time? A lot of good you two are to have around!”
“Stop it,” Jaci said. “Don’t go around accusing us when you know we have no power over things. We’re in this together.”
“You’re right,” she answered. “I should be accusing those who do have the power.”
Jaci pressed her thumbs into the flesh between her eyebrows, trying to rub away a headache. "Let’s forget about this. Tomorrow we’ll reach a city, and everything will be fine.”
“We need protection, not a city,” Sara spat out, but her voice lacked any venom.
“Maybe we’ll find both," Jaci said. She glanced at Amanda as they lay back down. “What were you doing out there, anyway?”
“What do you think?” she growled. Amanda turned off the flashlight and once again they plunged into darkness.