It started as a low rumbling sound. I was breathing so fast now I could barely hear it, but it was there. I was taking in deep gulps of air, and I still felt like I needed even deeper and deeper breaths. I'd never experienced any feeling like this except maybe in high school after I'd sprinted around the track. I knew I was about to pass out any minute now.
The coffin started to creak, and as the rumbling noise grew louder the earth started to shake a little. Bryce, breathing as frantically as I was, started banging on the lid. Little bits of dirt fell on our faces.
When I felt the coffin lurch, for a moment I thought it had caved in. But then I realized we were being pulled out of the ground. Before I could even process the fact that we'd been saved, someone had pried open the lid by a couple of inches. There was a flood of cool air and bright light. I swallowed gasps of the fresh oxygen as if I'd just been deep under water.
Bryce kicked the lid fully open.
The sky was overcast, but it took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the sudden daylight. Someone was kneeling over the coffin with a crow bar. A man. He was wearing a combat helmet. As his face faded into view, I found myself staring at the last person in the world I thought I'd see.
It was Jason Gibbs.
I hadn't thought about Jason since I'd broken through the police barricade at the fair.
"Holy hell," he said. He turned and called out over his shoulder, "Just in time!"
Then I saw who he was calling to. It was Shawn. He was climbing down from a backhoe.
Jason held out his hand and helped me out of the coffin. I was still dizzy.
"Jesus Christ, Ashley," he said. "You better be so glad we got issued these GPS phone trackers. How the hell did you two get in there?"
I ignored him and tried to make sense of what I was seeing. We were in an open field whose soil had been heavily turned over. In addition to Shawn and Jason, three other men where standing around an idling backhoe. All of them were wearing the same kind of combat gear as the men who had come to the house: helmets, flak jackets, boots, and they were all carrying semi-automatic rifles.
Shawn kept his gun casually pointed at Bryce while another of the men put him in handcuffs. He hadn't even stepped out of the coffin yet.
"What is this?" Bryce was still catching his breath. "You can't do this. Why are you doing this?" Bryce looked at his bound wrists, bewildered. "You can't . . . Are you the police or what?"
"Home Guard rangers." My husband was speaking in an official tone I'd never heard him use before.
Jason shoved Bryce with his rifle. "Just finished crash training yesterday, bitch!" He grabbed Bryce's arm and dragged him toward a huge military vehicle parked behind us. "And your ass is under arrest!"
Shawn held a pair of handcuffs toward me. For a moment I had an irrational flash of pride that he was finally applying himself. But instead of joining the highway patrol he'd become some kind of paramilitary Nazi.
"Give me your hands," he said. He wouldn't even look at me. "Give me your hands, ma'am."
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