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Forever and Ever, Amen
"...I'm gonna love you forever, forever & ever amen
As long as old men sit & talk about the weather
As long as old women sit & talk about old men
If you wonder how long I'll be faithful
I'll be happy to tell you again
I'm gonna love you forever & ever, forever & ever Amen..."
"Forever and Ever, Amen"
by Randy Travis
Two days until Christmas. Casey huffed a sigh of aggravation and continued to fight her way through the crowds towards Bon Macys’s. She pushed past a group of women who stood talking and laughing in the middle of the corridor.
How rude, she thought. Nothing like behaving as if you’re the only ones in the mall, she fumed silently.
She loved Christmas, she really did. It was the shopping part that sucked. Big time. She loved giving; she enjoyed watching the faces of friends and family as they carefully opened gifts wrapped in bright paper and bows. Even if the gift she gave wasn’t expensive, she wrapped it as if it were, with ribbons and bows that she fashioned herself. That in itself was a gift, although Casey had never stopped to think of it in that way.
This was the first year that she was buying the gifts she really wanted to give, not an inexpensive substitute. A promotion and the accompanying raise had made this year’s shopping, if not fun, then at least tolerable. She hadn’t planned to wait so long to start her shopping this year. But she had procrastinated, a habit born of frustration, and that frustration had come because she was always so busy counting pennies. This year…this year was different. A first. Divorced…happily, thank you very much. A promotion earned from working long hours, often volunteering to do so. It wasn’t as if she had to get home for anyone. Her roommates, sweet as they were, had their own lives to live. But for the first time in…years?...at least three years, she felt as if her life was finally on the right path.
She sighed again as she wove her way past the perfume and cosmetic counters, past the display of purses, left at the jewelry counter. If she could find that darling little sweater she had seen Kelley looking at last week, in teal, then her Christmas shopping would finally be done. If not…well, she preferred not to think about that.
The table that held the display of sweaters looked as if it had been hit by a hurricane. Or at least had suffered from several blasts from the wind that still blew outside. There was no longer any semblance of order to the colorful stack of yarn. Oh, joy. Casey sighed again. She would have to look at each one of them to see if she could find Kelley’s size. From the looks of it, finding it in teal was no longer an option. She carefully arranged her packages at her feet, and began the process of finding just the right sweater. If not teal, then maybe this soft blue? Or better yet, that bright green…that would go great with Kelley’s red hair. She grinned at that thought.
When Casey finally made her selection, she was surprised to see that she was literally the only customer in the department. A quick glance at her watch told her why…it was five minutes before ten. Five minutes and the mall would be closing. Amazing how quickly the place could empty out, she thought, trying to balance her packages and still hang onto the sweater, the bright green one.
The sales clerk at the counter looked as exhausted as Casey felt. She waited until Casey had dropped the sweater unceremoniously on the counter before even looking up. "Will this be all?" the clerk asked, not even bothering to smile.
Casey gritted her teeth and refused to give in to the temptation to tell the woman, that no, she wanted a roast beef sandwich and coleslaw, too...'here’s your sign'. Instead, she nodded and pulled out her credit card, shifting her load of packages once again as she signed the receipt. She was surprised the card wasn’t smoking. She groaned inwardly as she thought about the bill that would hit her in January. So much for my raise, she thought, signing her name with a flourish. I’ll be spending it all on this credit card. Maybe I’ll even have it paid off by next Christmas. She blew against the strand of hair that continued to fall over her eye. Hope springs eternal. She’d be lucky to have half of it paid by then. Unless she started pinching pennies again, and made more than just the minimum monthly payment. She slid the card back into her hip pocket and gathered her load. First she’d get these home, and then she’d worry about the credit card bill.
The parking lot was eerily empty as she trudged towards her car. It was, of course, parked as far away from the door as possible, all the other spots had been taken when she arrived. Casey struggled to get her keys out of her purse. She'd glanced around on her way to the car and hadn't seen anyone lurking nearby, so she felt safe enough to pile the numerous packages, some of them already decoratively wrapped, onto the trunk lid as she rummaged in her purse. 'The great pit' was what Kelley called her oversized denim bag. Casey managed a chuckle as she at last located her keys and began to open the trunk.
A strong hand grabbed her throat from behind; a body, large and hard, pressed itself against her. "You will do as I say," the voice commanded coldly.
Casey’s heart lurched into her throat; her heart began beating a tattoo in her chest. In her fear, her mind barely registered the odd dual quality of the voice. She managed to nod.
Her attacker forced her to the front of the car to the passenger door. "Open it!" the eerie voice demanded.
Her fingers shaking, Casey managed to open the door. She was shoved roughly onto the seat, then pushed again until she was finally over the console and sitting behind the wheel. She stole a look at the man beside her. He was a large man, well over six feet tall, perhaps taller, with dark hair and…she couldn’t tell what color his eyes were. His hands, like the rest of him, were large. The thought about what large hands on a man could signify danced across her terrified brain, and for a moment she was afraid she was going to laugh out loud.
The man shoved a piece of paper into her trembling hand. "You will take me to these coordinates."
Casey blanched. "C-c-coordinates? I don’t know coordinates. You’ll have to give me the address."
She never saw the blow coming. Her ears rang and her brain did a topsy-turvy spin. She could feel blood trickle from a small cut in her lip.
"You will take me to these coordinates. Now!"
If the man’s voice was eerie, the fact that his eyes began to glow as if lit from the inside was almost enough to have her shrieking in terror. She managed to bite down her fear, instinctively knowing that any screams would bring most undesired results. When her brain stopped spinning, Casey remembered the maps that her ex-husband had left in her car had longitudinal and latitudinal markings on them. For the first time in six months she had something to thank Kenny Vincent for. It didn’t dawn on her that her memory of the maps was sparked by primal survival instinct. "I have to get a map from the back, it should have what I need on it to find the…coordinates."
The man nodded.
She turned as best she could and not touch the huge man, a silent sigh of relief filling her mind when her fingers closed over the book. She turned on the overhead light, and started to look for matching numbers. She almost gasped out loud. Mt. Baker! This man wanted her to drive clear to Mt. Baker! Shaking, she put the key into the ignition.
"I’ll have to stop for gas," she said. "I don’t have enough to get that far north."
The man studied her, the seconds seeming to stretch on forever. "You will do nothing to draw attention to yourself or this vehicle."
There was no threat, at least, not vocalized. But Casey knew that her life was forfeit if she did anything to anger this giant.
She pulled the car into a nearby Chevron station. There were two other cars in the lot, although she was the only one getting gas. She could see a group of men standing near the counter, just inside the door. She looked at them, praying that they would look over at her. Could they look at her face and see that she was terrified? Would they be able to tell something was wrong? She pulled her credit card from her pocket and swiped it quickly. How close to the limit on the card was she? Maybe, just maybe it would be refused, giving her an excuse to go inside. Surely those men would help her. She paused, trying to catch a glimpse of her passenger without seeming to do so. Would he even know the difference if she told him she had to go inside to pay? She almost groaned out loud. Most places required payment indoors after a certain time of night. Why hadn’t she picked one of them? The pump dinged at her. Shoulders slumped, she began to fill up her gas tank. She watched her hands, amazed that she could get the nozzle in the pipe, they were shaking so badly.
The sound of voices brought her head up. The men were leaving, separating into the two vehicles. All of them glanced her way, one even staring for a moment, before he jumped into his car and gunned it down the driveway. She trembled slightly as she watched the taillights of the cars disappearing down the street, feeling as if she had just lost her one and only chance of escape.
The pump had automatically clicked off, yet she remained standing, head down. The sound of the car door opening brought a gasp from her throat. Her attacker said nothing, but his eyes lit eerily again, and she hurried to finish the task at hand. Within minutes they were on the freeway.
Casey felt as if a steel band had been placed around her ribcage, and was being slowly tightened. She had read about abductions, or listened to the news reports, always wondering why those being abducted didn’t fight, didn’t try to escape. Now she understood. Fear could be paralyzing. Neither her mind nor her body seemed to be functioning in the manner to which she was accustomed.
She passed the exit that would have led her to the three-bedroom house she shared with her best friend Kelley and their roommate Gretchen. She eyed it hungrily. She glanced at her silent, brooding passenger. For a brief second she toyed with the idea of taking the next exit and driving to the nearest police or fire station. She glanced again at the man beside her. He looked fully at her, his eyes glowing again, a cruel smile twisting his lips. It was as if he could read her mind. With a gulp, she turned her attention back to the road.
The traffic was heavy, and moving quickly, much faster than the posted speed limit. Perhaps if she were to speed, and get stopped...
"Do not attempt to draw attention to this vehicle. It will not go well for you if you do." His voice made her skin crawl. It seemed that he was indeed reading her mind. Or maybe he just knew that she would harbor thoughts of escape.
She was beginning to feel desperate. Casey tightened her grip on the steering wheel. Could she turn it just enough before he was aware of what she was doing? An impact at 70mph would certainly kill him, if she could swerve the car into the right lane, so that it was the passenger side that was hit. She bit her lip. Would whoever the driver was of the vehicle just behind her in that lane survive? Before she could make up her mind, the car moved up beside her. Casey glanced over. There were two car seats in the back…two little heads could be seen. She let out the breath that she wasn’t aware of holding. No, she couldn’t do it. To hurt others in an attempt to save herself just wasn’t something she could do.
For awhile, her passenger was so quiet that she almost forgot he was there. When she reached to turn on the radio, he grabbed her hand and thrust it back onto the steering wheel.
"Can I listen to some music? It helps me while I’m driving." It will help me to pretend that you aren’t sitting there, and that my life isn’t in danger, she thought.
Well, she thought, that was that. By the time she had reached Seacouver city limits, she was humming under her breath, completely unaware of doing so.
"Stop that irritating noise. It offends me."
Casey dared to look over at him. He was looking out the side window. "You know, you’re a real asshole."
The man’s head whipped around, his eyes glowing, and he raised his fist. Before he delivered the blow, however, he looked around. He roughly grabbed the back of her neck. "You will pay for your insolence. I tire of waiting. Take me to the coordinates!"
"Just how damned fast do you want me to go? I’ll go as fast as you want, but when a police car comes up behind me to stop me for speeding, you’d better damned well bet I’ll be pulling over!" Casey said, gritting her teeth.
"You will do nothing to bring attention to this vehicle!" he hissed.
"Then get off my back! It’s at least a three hour drive from here!" Casey snapped. The man stared at her, as if trying to determine whether or not she was lying. Finally, he sat back and calmly crossed his arms over his chest. His eyes flashed once again, and the hint of an amused smile tugged at his lips.
Casey wasn’t sure at this point what she was, terrified or angry. Perhaps a generous amount of both. Deep in her heart, she knew that her life would end as soon as this man was where he wanted to be. Her thoughts took a curious turn…she thought of the pile of laundry left undone, tossed haphazardly across the chair in her room; the stack of work on her desk, including the travel claims for three of the salesmen, at the office. She thought about the trip to see the 'Zoo Lights' at the Tacoma Zoo on Christmas Eve, a tradition she and Kelley had established as sophomores in college. She thought about the gifts she had yet to wrap…with a start, Casey realized that the packages she had left the mall with were now abandoned in the parking lot. A spark of hope flared in her chest. Would anyone see them before she reached her destination? Would the police check the security tapes and see what had happened? Would they be able to discern her tag number? Were they already looking for her?
Traffic began to thin out just a bit as they passed through Federal Way. She drove past Seattle…past Mountlake Terrace…past Lynnwood…past Everett.
She was beginning to get hungry. A glance at the dash clock told her it was nearly eleven forty-five. She hadn’t eaten since just before noon. "Look, I need to stop to get something to eat. I haven’t had anything since lunch."
"Your personal discomfort means nothing to me. We will continue."
Casey sighed in frustration. She had a headache from the slap she had received earlier, and it was beginning to get worse. What she wouldn’t give to be back in the mall - shoved, pushed, and jostled among all the shoppers. Why had she waited until the last minute to get her shopping done? Because, her mind told her, you always wait until the last minute to do Christmas shopping. You’ve never liked Christmas shopping because you never had enough money. She sighed mentally. For most of her life Christmas had been little more than just another day. But I’m making more now, she argued. Her mind refused to respond.
As the lights of Marysville began to fade in her rearview mirror, Casey became more apprehensive. It had been at least three years since she had last been to Mt. Baker, and then it had been with friends during the day...and she had been a passenger, not the driver. They had spent the day at Baker Lake, lazing in the sun, watching the numerous fishing boats. She wasn’t exactly sure where she was going. She remembered going through the small town of Burlington, but that was all. Hopefully there would be signs to guide the way.
The incessant rain had begun to turn to snow. This brought another worried thought to her mind. Access to the mountain would probably be closed. She sighed inwardly. She could only do as much as she could do. It wouldn’t matter anyway. She was as good as dead. With this thought, her brain began to shut down. The shock of her predicament began to fold her mind in a cold fog.
A A A A A A
With a start, Casey realized she had just passed the road she needed. She slowed the car down and began to turn around. She didn’t remember any of the drive after Marysville, didn’t even remember leaving the freeway to enter Burlington. She couldn’t recall driving through the small town, leaving all the lights behind and heading further into the wilderness and the dark.
"We have arrived?" It was the first time her abductor had spoken since refusing to allow her to stop and eat.
"No, I missed the turn off. I’m turning around now."
She glanced at the man when he pulled something from the inside of his heavy leather coat. Although she only had the dim light from the dashboard in which to see, it was like nothing she’d ever seen before.
Just as she had feared earlier, the gate to the State Park that surrounded Mt. Baker was closed. She pulled the car to a stop, put it in park, and just sat staring at the gate.
The man roughly pulled her out with him, not caring that she bruised her thigh on the gearshift. He pushed her into the harsh light that came from the high beams of the headlights. He looked at her for a moment, then gently smoothed her hair from her face, the long blonde strands wrapped around his fingers. "Take off your clothes."
Casey began to quake with fear. Obviously she was to be raped before she was killed. For a moment, she clutched her denim jacket closer to her slender frame. Again the slap came so fast she never saw it coming. Her head swimming, she felt the man jerk her upright.
"I will tolerate no further insolence from you. Remove your clothes. I wish to see if your body is acceptable."
The words made no sense to her, but Casey began to strip. The jacket was first, then her tee shirt. She had to lean against the car to remove her worn cowboy boots, and then the faded, snug-fitting jeans followed. She stood shivering from the cold. The man frowned at her, and with a sinking heart she removed her lacy bra and thong panties.
"Very nice," the man breathed as he walked around her, turning her this way and that as he appraised her naked body in the light from car's high-beams.
Indeed, she did have a body worthy of praise. She was five feet, seven inches tall, and her slender frame showed the advantages of having a free gym pass, free because Gretchen was a trainer there. Her neck was long, and led to a most delightful décolletage, which in turn led to firm round breasts; the rosy nipples hard, the areolas puckered from the cold. Her waist was narrow and her abdomen flat, the result of 100 scrunches a day. Her hips were not much wider than her waist, and a narrow vee of dark blonde curls sat at the apex of her thighs. Her legs were long for her height, and beautifully shaped. The man grabbed her face between his hands. He stared into her green eyes for a moment, then took in the delicate features of her oval face, his glance lingering on her full lips. Her blonde hair cascaded down her back, would have covered her breasts if he hadn’t pushed it behind her shoulders.
"Yes, very nice. You should suit My Love quite nicely."
This comment shook her more than anything else that he had said all evening.
"You may dress. Then you will lead me to the coordinates."
Panic began to build as she quickly pulled her clothes back on. The snow was falling heavier now, and her ‘examination’ had lasted several minutes, leaving her shivering, and completely chilled. She had no idea where the exact coordinates were, and it wouldn’t take long for Gargantua, as she was beginning to call her abductor in her mind, to realize this fact.
Casey climbed over the gate, her captor right on her heels. She began walking up the road, her heart pounding against her ribs. She thought briefly of trying to escape into the darkness among the trees. She looked longingly at the side of the road. The trees were little more than black shadows in the darkness. She felt them more than saw them. She knew the undergrowth was heavy, but surely she could get away? The thought of struggling through the brush, not knowing where she was going, getting lost in the snow amid the forest brought a shiver to her slender frame. She was a coward, she decided, not even able attempt escape when facing rape and death. She didn’t realize that it often took more courage to remain alive.
Just behind her, she could hear the man doing something. She turned to find him holding that device again.
Suddenly he grinned. "You have done well. "
Before she could reply, a bright light from above them blinded her. She heard a whooshing sound, and several…rings… surrounded the two. For several long seconds she felt as if her body was on fire from the inside, and just as quickly, it was over.
Casey looked around. She had no idea where she was. She knew without being told that she was no longer on planet Earth. She stared at a group of men who were clad in what looked like knight’s armor, although it was very different in style. Every one of them had a black tattoo of some sort in the middle of their foreheads. And they were all holding long staffs with a peculiar diamond shape at the top.
A woman wearing little more than a gauzy-looking sheath hurried to them, her dark hair swung loose down her back. "You’ve returned, My Lord! We have rejoiced since your last communication with us!"
The woman had the same duality to her voice, as if she were speaking with her own voice and that of someone else. And she was speaking in a language that Casey couldn’t understand.
Noticing the young woman for the first time the smile turned to a frown. "This creature, My Lord?"
The man smiled. "A Tau’ri. And yours if you so desire. I know that the time for a new host approaches."
The woman, attractive in her own way, turned again to Casey. She walked around the blonde woman, looking at her, touching her hair. "Remove your clothes."
Casey had no idea what the woman had said. Her hesitation brought the fist of the man across her face. Her body flew across the room, and she impacted against the rough wall.
"OBEY YOUR GOD! REMOVE YOUR CLOTHES!"
Casey pulled herself to her feet and began to remove her clothes. She stood naked, willing her mind elsewhere as the woman performed the same examination of her as the man had.
"You find her pleasing, My Lord?" The woman asked.
"Only if you do, my love."
The woman gave him a predatory smile. "A wise answer, my love. I do not like the color of her hair. Nor her eyes."
The man shrugged carelessly. He turned to the armored man standing nearest to him. "Take it below and destroy it." His gaze locked with wide, green, fear-filled eyes. "Destroy it," he said again, making sure that Casey heard and understood what he had said.
Casey shivered. She had gone from being a single woman in charge of her own life to a hostage to an 'it'. She slowly pulled her clothes back on, her fingers trembling as she did so. Her mind was overloaded with the sounds and sights around her, with the knowledge that something beyond her control was happening. Just as it had earlier, her mind began to shut down, unable to deal with what was going on around her.
The woman put a hand on the man’s arm. "Our source of slaves has been cut off to us since the last battle with Ba’al. Perhaps you could spare this one’s life. I’m sure that there is a need for more slaves below."
The man smiled and kissed the woman passionately. "Always thinking logically. That’s what I love about you." He turned once again to the armored man. "Brand her, and send her to Liotus.’"
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