Chapter 11: Secret Passages
Vincent’s panicked shrieking for help with Caitlyn roused the entire house. Terrified women in their nightgowns cracked open bedroom doors up and down the corridor. Deidra hurried past them, averting her eyes from all the curious stares and glares. Before she could reach the staircase, four men came thundering up the steps. For one panicked second, she imagined they were coming for her. She pretended to be on her way to get help and quickly pointed them towards Caitlyn’s room. They took off in that direction, spurred on by Vincent’s screaming.
Deidra continued as fast as she could, racing down the staircase on shaky legs and almost fell in her haste. One foot then the other slipped on the carpeted steps. Panic had already confused Caitlyn’s instructions in her mind. Deidra reached the bottom of the staircase and stood turning one way and then the other, looking around frantically. Where was she supposed to go?
The front door was right in front of her. Deidra took one step towards it. Footsteps suddenly came pounding down the steps behind her, as three of the men raced back downstairs. They pushed past Deidra, charged outside with a large quilt. She watched them for a few confused moments, before realizing that they were going to hold it open and try to catch Caitlyn and Vincent when they fell from the upstairs window.
Through the open door, Deidra saw other people gathering outside. It wouldn’t be safe for her to go out there. Someone would see her attempting to escape. Deidra turned away from the front door and assessed her surroundings. The sight of the fireplace reminded her that Caitlyn had said there was a door concealed next to it. Deidra scurried into the sitting room, running her hands along the paneling along one side of the fireplace and then the other. Peering closely, she saw what appeared to be an outline scored between the panel grooves but could not detect any discernable doorknob or handle.
Deidra frantically began pressing random spots on the paneling. She was afraid that at any given second, someone might come rushing back inside and she would be caught out. Nothing was working. She spun around and froze, thinking she heard stealthy footsteps behind her. Other than the commotion going on outside, the only audible noise was the steady tick of the enormous grandfather clock standing like a sentry against the opposite wall. Deidra heaved a shaky sigh of relief and then cursed under her breath. Caitlyn had given her life to help her escape. Failure was not an option.
Several minutes of fruitless effort passed. Deidra gave the wall a frustrated punch. The soft snick of the magnetic catch mechanism disengaging startled her. The door opened slightly. She took one last look behind her before eagerly slipping inside. Deidra fumbled with the handle on the inside of the door, rushing to close it behind her. Feeling safe for the first time in more days than she could count, the nervous tension in Deidra’s legs was abruptly released. The muscles suddenly felt weak and rubbery. She had to prop herself up against the nearest wall. All of the fear and anguish which Deidra had been damming up since her abduction came bubbling out. Tears boiled up and coursed down her hot face. Deidra covered her mouth to muffle the sobs racking her body.