Spiders in the Grove (In the Company of Killers #7)

Spiders in the Grove (In the Company of Killers #7)

J.A. Redmerski


The stars toss around chaotically in my vision; the sky is black on blue on purple, fringed by a jagged mountain backdrop, everything blending into something indistinguishable. There should be sound, a lot of tumultuous sound—the buckling of metal, the crushing of rocks, the banging inside my head—but I think I’ve gone temporarily deaf. The light brown of Naeva’s hair is like a black web over my face, glistening in the moonlight, and then it’s gone in a blink as her body is tossed from one end of the van to the other; like a slow-motion nightmare I see her fly by, and I can do nothing to help her.

My head bangs against something hard, and white flashes appear before my eyes, blinding me to everything else. Great, now I’m deaf and blind, and…fuuuck, I can’t move my arms. Or my legs. I’m alive, but I don’t know for how long—the men that were shooting at us will be here soon.

Slowly, my eyes open to a bright white light, but I don’t for a second mistake it for something as ridiculous as the afterlife. It’s one of the van’s headlights—I just want to know how it ended up in front of my face.

Somehow, I manage to set one arm free, and then the other, and then one leg, but the left leg is still trapped beneath the front of the van. I bite down, grinding my teeth in preparation to pull it free, and I’m thankful that the pain is minimal—the leg’s not broken. And, unless I hit my head too hard, it doesn’t feel like anything else is broken, either.

One, two, three—I pull my leg from beneath the warped metal. Ah, there’s the pain. “Ahhh!” I cry out until it passes.

“Sarai,” I hear Naeva call out to me from somewhere nearby. “Where are you? Can you walk?”

She’s alive at least, but if she’s asking me those particular questions instead of coming to find out for herself, it can only mean one thing: she can’t.

With difficulty, I crawl a few feet to the van’s door and I curl my fingers around where the window used to be and use it to help pull me up. The moment my head rises over the door, I see a bloodied, mangled face staring back at me from the driver’s seat, upside-down; blood drips from Ray’s black hair; his eyes are open. So much for my own private coyote; looks like I’ll have to find another one to get us the hell out of here later. If we make it to later.

“Naeva, where are you?” I call out, and scramble around the wreckage, hunched over so no one sees me.

“Over here.”

I make it around to the back of the van to find Naeva trapped beneath it, and at first, I panic a little thinking the worst. But relief washes over me when I realize the van isn’t so much on her as it is all around her, confining her like a cage.

I fall onto my knees and peer inside the glassless window at her.

“Are you all right? Is anything broken?”

She shakes her head. “No, but there’s blood on my head”—she reaches up to touch it—“I-I think it’s mine; I don’t know.”


I peer into the window closer, studying her predicament, and try to figure out how to free her. But I don’t have time as I hear the rumbling of a truck’s engine and rocks breaking underneath swift tires.

“They’re coming!”

“What do we do?” Naeva’s voice shakes with panic.

There’s nothing we can do, and I know it so I don’t answer.

Bright headlights bounce around in the darkness as the truck speeds its way toward us over the rocky terrain. There’s nowhere to go; we’re in the Middle of Nowhere, Mexico, and our ride has been reduced to a useless hunk of metal riddled with bullet holes and four obliterated tires. I curse myself for making a deal with a coyote who didn’t pay his debts.

And then I wait.

To be shot on sight?

To be raped first and then beheaded?

But why am I not afraid?

Because fuck that!

Several men jump out of the back of the truck before it comes to a full stop; guns blaze at me in the darkness, surrounded by the blinding beams of flashlights; black eyes stare down at me with determination and intent.

“He’s dead!” a man shouts from the other side of the van.

Another man standing in front of me barely looks up. “Search the van! Search around it!” He looks back down at me. “How many of you were there?” he asks in accented English.

“Three,” I also respond in English—I don’t want them to know I can understand Spanish; I hope like hell Naeva remembers the importance of that.

“Me, and Uma”—I point in Naeva’s direction—“and the driver; that’s all. There were more when we crossed the border yesterday, but they got out a long time ago.”

A shot of white-hot pain whips through the bone in my face, and I see a flash of gray light; my hands come up quickly to cover my nose; tears burn around my eyelids. Only when I can open my eyes again do I realize it was the gun that had landed hotly across my face. Blood trickles from one nostril; I lick it away from my upper lip.

“How many?” the man repeats through clenched teeth.

“Just three! I swear it! Only us three!” I force the tears to the surface, and at least try to look afraid, because if I show the slightest bit of defiance he’ll probably kill me on the spot.

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