Mitzi had just cut through the straps binding her arms and was starting to work on her legs and feet when a harsh voice called out through the open doorway, an angry male's that was all too familiar from before.

"Mitzi, what in our Lord's name are you doing? Stop, stop it at once!"

It was Micah, coming forward with Thomasina on his heels, crying out in shrill excitement at the scene quickly building up before her young and eager gaze. As Mitzi half turned, crying out in fright, Micah reached out and jerked her to her feet, shaking her roughly as the tool in her hand tumbled to the ground. Slamming Mitzi against the dirty floor only a few feet away from Nina, he shouted, close to her face, accentuating his words with occasional rough shakings.

"You foolish, easily lead, wanton woman, you were going to taint our sacrifice, you were going to deny our Maker what is rightfully His! They were right, you are nothing more than a temptation in my path, you are not to be trusted with God's word, God's law, and God's will!"

"Daddy, are you going to punish her?!" Thomasina cried, fairly dancing only inches behind the man and woman Nina was beginning to understand to be her parents- as well as her aunt and uncle. "Daddy, has she sinned? Mama, you were wicked, you have sinned!"

"Micah, please, I did not mean-" Mitzi was stammering, but her teeth were clicking together with each shake of her brother's grip, barely able to form words or focus her eyes.

And this was the brief few moments of distracted focus that Nina needed. With both Micah and Thomasina focused on Mitzi, they could not also give much mind to the woman behind them, using her weak, shaking, and badly bruised hands to tear at and pull apart the bindings on her legs and feet. She could not have had the strength then or dexterity of her fingers to retie herself, if necessary, but frantic undoing knots and ties, with her teeth used for added force as needed, was something adrenaline and desperation gave her the capability of completing.

Once on her feet, her muscles, weak and unsteady from the hours of lying tied up on a hard surface, took several moments to keep her standing steadily upright, let alone the coordination it took to rush towards the door. But they seemed to pull together fast enough, with the urgency at hand, and by the time Micah had thrown Mitzi down and lunged towards her, Nina was out in the open space, muscle memory more than any true physical coordination kicking into gear to send her sprinting across the darkened grounds.

She knew that Micah was running after her, could hear him shouting, could hear the shrill cries of the child perhaps following as well, or perhaps being restrained from doing so by Mitzi. She didn't dare look back to see if any others had been alerted, if the old man or the false police officer too were sprinting after her, with the advantage of height, strength, and knowledge of the area squarely in their favor to overtake her if they wished. She simply ran, tangled hair flying out behind her, her aching leg muscles screaming but still working, still carrying her forward, and even as she ran Nina could feel tears at last breaking free, streaming down her face as she screamed out loud without words. She felt as though her voice was the only thing then propelling her forward, drawing her out of harm and into relative safety.

She could not think of the man and woman, still unconscious and vulnerable, left behind. She could not help them without first helping herself, getting herself to safety. She couldn't think of Zach and Jana, Bonnie and Judith, and however many others had not been able to escape. She could only run, getting herself as far away as possible, out the boundaries of their land and into somewhere different, somewhere that she could at last get the help she needed.

Nina couldn't have guessed for how long she ran down the highway, right in the center of the road. She couldn't have kept to one side or the other if she tried; it was all she could do just to keep her legs in motion without falling down from shock and exhaustion. It seemed to her far too soon, and yet far too long before she saw the small home ahead, a glowing beacon of light to her in the darkness. Someone was living there, and what's more, they must be home- why else would both the porch light and two windows be lit up, especially at this hour?

Almost sobbing with relief, she continued to push herself forward, registering only dimly the large number of cars, tractors, and motorcycles scattered across the house's front yard. Almost flinging herself up the porch steps and against the porch door, she pounded against its solid surface, calling out to the resident within.

"Please, please, open up, please let me in! It's an emergency, please!"

The man who came to the door seemed reluctant to let her in. He stood in the doorway, his eyes raking up and down her frame, pausing on the bloody wound on her head, and frowned, speaking in a gruff manner.

"What's the problem? You break down out on that highway?"

"Please, I need to call for help, please," Nina cried, weak with relief. She didn't know what she would have done if the man hadn't come to the door, or if he refused now to let her in to use the phone. "Please!"

"Go on ahead, I ain't stopping you," the man muttered, taking a step back and letting Nina stumble through the doorway after him. "Lot of accidents up this way, lot of people needing help…" he was shaking his head, even as he closed and locked the door behind her. "God always does provide for His faithful, he always does provide the sacrificial lambs."

Nina's head jerked up, a sob of horror catching in her throat. But already the man was reaching for a heavy wooden cross on the wall, and before she could even throw up her hands in defense it was crashing down against her, coming down hard atop her head. Shaking his head, Judah Coles looked down almost sadly at the young woman at his feet.

"God always does provide," he murmured aloud, even as he knelt to lift her over his shoulder, the easiest way to transport her with the others to his parents' shed. "The Lord's mercy endures forever…."

88

In the morning, when the last three offerings were complete and only remnants of ash, bone, and death remained, the Coles family completed their morning chores, as they always did on the days of sacrifice. Ezra buried the remnants of the offering while Arlene swept and scrubbed the shed's floor. Micah locked Mitzi into their bedroom, entering only to serve meals and present her with the approved scripture he felt she needed most to repent for her sin. Thomasina stayed close to him, soaking up every word he had to say in both reprimand and instruction. And Silas rode with Judah in his tow truck, pointing out the vehicles of Nina, Jana and Zach, Bonnie and Judith, and Matt and Colleen, all, of course, which would need to be picked up and brought back to the front of Judah's home, where he could strip them of all the owner's possessions and burn them, before towing their emptied cars to be dumped in the woods.

There was little talk about what they were doing, or how things needed to be done. There was no need for it. For the Coles family, this was just another day's work, nothing to talk or complain about, but simply what was needed to get by. After all, God's ways were beyond understanding, and it was not for man to question, but simply to obey.

The end