Ruth took a deep, whistling breath. Behind her, in the yard, she could hear Robert shouting for help. She had to hope no-one would hear his strangled cries.
In front of her was a dingy hallway, brown patches seeping up the walls. And a door leading to the outside. To the beach. To safety. To Ben…
She slammed into it, yanking the handle. It was locked.
She leaned back and tugged, muttering under her breath. Behind her, Robert’s voice was joined by the shouts of other men.
She opened her hand. The skin of her palm was patterned with the keys’ white imprints. She grabbed one at random and fumbled it into the lock, her fingers shaking. It didn’t budge.
She looked round to see the silhouetted rear of a man in the kitchen doorway, blocking the light.
She threw herself at the staircase behind her, swinging herself round.
At the top she paused. Ahead were bedrooms. At the far end of the hallway was a stinking bathroom and a separate toilet, both of which she’d had the pleasure of cleaning yesterday. Behind her was another hallway and unused bedrooms that still smelt of damp.
She crept along the hallway. Below her, the men were calling to each other between rooms.
Then she heard it: the creak of a foot on the bottom stair. She forced herself to stay still and quiet. The thumping of her heart was accompanied by squeaks and shuffles on the staircase behind.
When she reached the toilet door she put one hand on the wood and the other on the handle. She eased it down and pushed.
The door opened to reveal the toilet sitting in splendid isolation under the obscured window. She stepped inside and pulled the door shut.
She slid the bolt, then slumped down on the toilet lid. As the air hit her lungs the room blurred and swayed. Sparkling lights danced like dust captured in sunlight.
She blinked three times and bowed her head, her hands on her knees. She didn’t have time for this. Pushing away the dizziness, she turned to kneel on the toilet lid, exploring the window frame with her hands.
“What are you doing?”
She froze, then relaxed. The voice was muffled by the locked door.
“Shut up! I don’t want her hearing us.”
Too late, she thought, returning to the window. She pushed at the wood with her fingers. The frame was warped and reluctant to move, but she managed to jolt the bottom part of the sash window upwards. She could reach through and grab the bottom of the frame. The air outside warmed her fingertips and made her heart race.
The door behind her rattled as it caught on the lock. There was a pause then a thud as her pursuer leaned into it.
She turned and stared, watching the flimsy lock rattling. She tensed.
Robert’s voice came through the door, making her turn cold.
“I know you’re in there, my dear.”