The front door slowly opened a fraction of an inch. After a while, a head cautiously peeped out. Everything seemed quiet, and a man stepped onto the small porch. Taking his time, he tucked a gun into the waistband of his pants, and slipped a cell phone into his pocket. Then he zipped his leather jacket, adjusted his night-vision glasses, and pulled up the hood of the sweatshirt he was wearing under his jacket.
Large fields extended on both sides of the house. This was an advantage; there was no one nearby to see or hear him. But just to be safe, he reached around the doorframe and turned off the external light. He also removed the key from the inside, pushed the door shut with his hip, and locked it. Then he turned around and, with a flick of his wrist, he tossed the key into the darkness. Carefully he made his way down the slippery steps and was swallowed up by the night in seconds.
The blizzard came sweeping in from the west. The strong wind whipped up the snow that had fallen earlier in the week, and, within minutes, visibility was virtually down to zero.
The floor no longer felt solid, and her feet sank deeper with each step. She mustn't stop or she would get stuck. Keep going, keep going! There was no time to waste! I'm coming, Lollo! The light got closer, and she thought she could hear voices through the pounding in her ears. She could just make out three large shadows up ahead. They were bending over a small curled-up figure; she knew it was Lollo. Please, God, don't let it be too late! I promise I'll never... If you just help us, God! She tried to call out, but nothing passed her lips; they merely moved in silence.
One of the shadows suddenly turned toward her, and she realized she'd been spotted. At first she froze in fear, then she tried to run. But that moment of hesitation had been enough. Her feet were stuck. The menacing shadow was approaching, but she couldn't move. He reached her and she felt him grasp her by the throat.
"If you say a word to anyone, you're dead! We know who you are and where you live," he hissed.
Somehow she managed to speak: "Lollo, Lol..."
He pushed her to the floor. The walls around her collapsed, and she sank into the ice-cold sludge; it filled her nostrils and her mouth. Breathe...she couldn't breathe! Beneath her the ground began to shake.
Embla woke to find herself sitting bolt upright in bed, terrified and gasping for air as sweat trickled between her breasts. Her T-shirt stuck to her back. It was usually the same when she had the recurring nightmare: she woke up because she couldn't breathe. But this time something was different. The ground was shaking. Why was the ground shaking? And where was she?
Slowly she began to gather her wits and realized the bed was moving.
Uncle Nisse's guest room was small, but there was just enough space for a camp bed at the foot of hers. That was where the movement was coming from. A halo of tousled brown hair appeared with a pair of wide-awake eyes sparkling beneath the curls. Elliot was impatiently shaking the rail at the bottom of Embla's bed.
"Come on, Embla—we're going hunting today!" He leaped up and onto her bedspread.
"Hunting! Hunting! Hunting!"
He warbled away happily as he bounced up and down; Embla couldn't help laughing. He was always full of energy, but right now the dial was turned up to maximum.
"Okay—off you go to the bathroom, then put on the clothes I've left on the chair in the hallw..."
She didn't get any further; he was already on his way to the tiny en suite bathroom.
Elliot was the best thing to come out of Embla's relationship with Jason Abbot, a jazz musician. They'd split up almost five years ago after a series of excoriating rows about Jason's inability to remain faithful, but a deep bond had grown between Embla and Jason's son, Elliot, which his father had sensibly chosen to nurture. Needless to say, he had seen the value of having an adult around who was willing to help out. Elliot's mother had died before he was one year old, and the boy's only close relations in Sweden were a divorced maternal aunt and her three children, but she already had her hands full.