Opal had been missing for just twelve hours but to her, it felt like twelve years. She didn't know what day it was or what time it was but she did know it was getting harder to breathe. Opal had given up screaming hours ago, all that had done was given her a sore throat. She sobbed and croaked out a silent prayer that someone would come soon. Opal pushed her hands against the wooden sides of the box she was trapped in, they didn't budge but when she pushed on the top it gave ever so slightly. Her shriek of triumph was cut short when something pattered onto her face; she spluttered and turned her head to the side. Opal pulled the matches that had been left for her out of her pocket, she didn't want to use them as they took away from her precious oxygen but she wanted to see what had hit her. The spark of light was so sudden that Opal closed her eyes against it.
"Holy shit" she muttered. Opal opened her eyes and stared at the little pile of dirt beside her head. She had been buried alive.
Almita paced her living room like a caged tiger, her eyes darting between the phone and the window. How could it take this long to get ten grand? There was almost triple that in the account, it shouldn't take this long. Almita picked up the framed photograph on the mantel, tears pricked the back of her eyes as she looked down into Opal's smiling face. Her girl had been snatched right in front of her nearly thirteen hours ago. The only contact they had had from the sicko who took her was a note telling them to leave the money in the bin in the garden by 3pm and it was almost time.
The front door opened and Almita's sister, Iris, dashed into the room. She threw a bag at Almita and swiped tears from her face.
"What took you so long?" cried Almita. She pulled the bag open and checked the notes within.
"They had to check my ID. It's your name on the account remember." Almita jumped as the phone rang but scooped it up and answered in a trembling voice.
"Guess again." Almita gulped, in any other circumstances the high pitched voice would have funny but not now. She'd never be able to watch Alvin and the Chipmunks again without shivering.
"Where's my daughter?"
"Where's my money?" Almita hurried out into the garden and dropped the bag into the bin before answering.
"It's in the bin. I did as you told me! Where is she?"
"Drive to Marston Market. There's a phone box outside, take a look in the light." The line went dead. Almita dashed from the house, dived into her car and skidded away from the house, leaving Iris to stare after her.
Iris watched her sister head off into the distance before stepping back into the house and closing the door. She was just heading into the living room when a car pulled into the driveway; she peered through a crack in the curtains at a battered old Vectra. A man got out, he had a baseball cap pulled low over eyes that were covered with sunglasses. He looked around for a moment before reached into the bin and pulling out the bag. Iris scooped up a vase from the end table and dashed out into the hallway, she yanked open the front door and bought the vase down on the man's head. He dropped to the concrete driveway and lay motionless. Iris looked around her but she couldn't see anyone, she hoisted the bag over her shoulder and dragged the man into the house.
Almita pulled up outside the market and almost ran right into the phone booth. She jumped out of the car and dashed into the phone booth; she braced herself against the glass walls and pushed the light upwards. A piece of paper fluttered down, Almita caught it and peered at the drawing. It was a map with a red cross in the top right corner; Almita stared down at it and then gasped as she realized where the cross was. It was their back garden.
Iris jumped as Almita crashed into the house. She ran past shouting something about the back garden. Iris glanced at the man tied to the chair before following Iris outside. She was hurrying towards the edge of the garden where the border met the woods, she vanished into the trees. There was a moment of silence and then a long, loud howl that made Iris shudder. She sprinted across the grass and burst through the trees into a small clearing. Almita was kneeling on the soft ground next to a freshly dug section of Earth, she was clawing at with her bare hands and screaming Opal's name. Iris turned and ran back to the garden, she yanked open the door to the shed and grabbed the shovels before hurrying back to the woods.
"Use this!" cried Iris. She threw one shovel to the ground before beginning to dig, Almita scooped up the spade and followed suit.
Opal raised her hands as light showered into the box, it was so bright and she'd been in the dark for so long. And then she heard it, her mother's voice!
"Opal! Oh my God, Opal!" She blinked and looked up; her mother was climbing into the hole and helping her up from the box.
"Mum, are you really here?" They climbed out of the hole and lay on the ground, clinging to each other and crying. After a moment or two, Iris cleared her throat.
"There's something you should see." Opal and Almita struggled to their feet, refusing to let go of each other. They followed Iris into the house and stopped in shock when they saw a man tied to a chair; he was gagged and looked as if he were just regaining consciousness.
"What the Hell is this?" asked Almita. She placed Opal on the sofa before starting to untie the poor man.
"He arrived just after you left. He was taking the money." Almita stopped and snatched her hands back like the man was on fire.
"You took my baby." The man looked up, he seemed confused but then he caught sight of Opal and his eyes grew wide before he started to struggle.
"You buried my baby alive. I think we owe you" said Almita. The man screamed against his gag as Almita and Iris closed in.
The next morning, Iris and Almita carried a table and chairs out the clearing. They placed them onto a freshly dug patch of Earth and sat down, pouring some tea. Opal perched on the empty chair and smiled at her sister and aunt before glancing down at her watch. Six feet below them, in a wooden box, a man was just running out of air.