I am so excited to be joining with Sourcebooks for their FIREreads Midnight campaign! I mean- is there a more perfect event for me to participate in? Methinks not. I read this short story and was kind of blown away by the twist- I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did! Then, check out the info about author Claire McFall, and her new book (which I actually just got in the mail today and am super excited to read!) coming in January!
In the Car with Him
“Stop the car!”
It was meant to ring with authority, but on the final word Ailsa’s voice cracked with panic. As the car slunk at a frustratingly casual speed along the midnight-black road, the streetlights illuminated her face in flashes. Her eyes were rimmed red from crying, one cheek swollen. The teeth that ground into her bottom lip seemed oblivious of the deep split sending a thin trail of blood running down to the sharp point of her chin. Each flash of light that blazed through the window had just enough time to reveal a dress ripped at the shoulder and thigh, revealing skin dotted with dirt and jagged scrapes, before darkness engulfed the back seat of the car once more.
The man in the front seat ignored her. He had not spoken a word since he manhandled her into this claustrophobic space where the doors wouldn’t open, the windows wouldn’t roll down, and an impenetrable wire grid hung between the back seat and her captor.
Ailsa squirmed in discomfort. Her hands were bound behind her, stretching the muscles in her shoulders and arms so they ached. Her wrists were wet, slick with sweat that made the raw skin sting as she twisted and pulled at her restraints. Her legs, however, were free. Sliding down on the seat, she lifted one naked leg tipped with a gleaming pink stiletto and kicked at the window. The slippery fabric of the seat and jolting rumble of the car as it bobbled along the uneven ruts of the road worked against her, and the blow bounced off the glass, the point of her heel barely managing to scratch the surface. The wire grid, she knew, would bend more easily, but she didn’t want to get any closer to him.
“Stop that!” his voice bellowed from the driver’s seat. Dark eyes, narrowed in anger, glared at her from the rearview mirror. She stared back, defiance momentarily overriding fear as she raised her foot for another attempt. Her gaze traveled from the mirror to where his hands gripped the steering wheel. Large hands, strong; they had fought against her struggles as if her thrashing limbs were as fragile as flower stems. His arms, too, were powerful; thick bands of muscles bulging against the black jacket he wore. Her courage quailed in the face of his strength.
“Please let me go,” she pleaded, her face screwing up beseechingly as she scooted back into an upright position. “I haven’t done anything! Please.”
She was not too proud to beg.
She watched the mirror for his reaction. He appraised her for one, long moment, eyebrows lifting slightly at her words, before turning his attention back to the road, dismissing her.
“Let me go!”
This time, her voice was a scream, erupting from her throat. Desperation took control of her muscles, and she slammed sideways into the door before the next lurch of the car sent her flying back across the length of the seat. Her hair finally sprang loose from the messy French roll—which had once been neat and elegant—falling haphazardly across her face. She spat tresses from her mouth, hauling air into her lungs, ready to scream again.
“Ailsa Clark!” he snapped. “You are in enough trouble as it is.”
The breath froze in her lungs. How did he know her name? Then she realized: hands had dug through her pockets as they roamed over her body, searching. He must have looked in her purse too.
She was young still, not quite a woman despite the height of her heels and layers of makeup, now streaked down her face. Her childlike eyes saw only one more choice. Welling her eyes up until they shimmered in the darkness of the car, she began to cry. Tears coursed down her cheeks, cutting tracks through the doll’s face she had painted to hide her own. Her breath came in ragged gasps, soft squeaks of misery hiccupping from her mouth. She looked hopefully toward the mirror, wondering if her cries might melt his stone façade.
He didn’t even bother to meet her gaze. Instead, he sighed, and Ailsa understood the sound for what it was: the door slamming closed on her hopes of escape. Unable to control herself, she continued to weep softly as the miles flew under the wheels of the car.
When the harsh light finally flooded into the cab, Ailsa had fallen silent. She watched as the man smoothly maneuvred the car into the tight space, parking in front of a set of double doors. Looking up, she took in a gray, nondescript building, square and forbidding. It seemed to loom over her, threatening to swallow her whole. She shivered. In one fluid movement, the man slunk out from behind the wheel and grabbed the rear door handle, pulling it open. Ailsa sat where she was, jammed as far from the man’s reaching hands as possible. She heard him give an annoyed grunt before he leaned in, grabbed her upper arm, and dragged her across the vinyl seat and out into the blinding light. Squinting, trying to get her bearings, Ailsa let her body drop as deadweight, collapsing to the floor. He muttered angrily under his breath, but she ignored this, staying as limp as a rag doll.
Suddenly, the double doors opened, and another man stepped out. He was identically dressed in black. Ailsa’s heart sank: she could not fight two of them.
“What have you got there?” the second man called. “Need some help?”
“Just a drunk and disorderly,” came the reply. “Cat fight in a bar.”
Eyes narrowed to angry slits, green eyes gleaming, Ailsa could do nothing but let the two men drag her inside.
The Last Witness by Claire McFall
Published by Sourcebooks Fire on January 7, 2020
One year ago she survived…but being the last one standing has consequences.
Heather agrees to go camping with Dougie and his friends because she’s desperate to get closer to him, and a secluded beach sounds like the perfect place. But the trip takes a sinister turn that brings Heather’s plans to a violent end.
One by one, the group begins to vanish.
A year later, Heather knows she’s just lucky to be alive. And now, people are asking for answers, or else she will be the one to take the blame.