Michael Prescott: Last Breath

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Michael Prescott Last Breath
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    Last Breath
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Last Breath: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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Carefully, making no noise, she hung up the phone.

He was searching the house room by room. He would look in the kitchen before long.

There was no way out of the kitchen except through the living room, and he was in there now.

Hide somewhere. Under the table? No good-he would see her easily. In the cabinet under the sink?

She looked inside, but the interior was crammed with dustpans and sponges and cleansers. She could never make enough room for herself.

She remembered the crawl space.

It ran underneath the house. Her dad had climbed down there more than once to fix the plumbing. The trapdoor that afforded access to it was in a corner of the kitchen, recessed in the hardwood floor.

She crept to the trapdoor and pulled on the metal ring embedded in the wood. The door was surprisingly heavy, but fear gave her strength. She lifted it, and miraculously the hinge, recently oiled, made no sound.

There was darkness below, and she had no flashlight or matches, and no time to find any. She lowered herself into the pit. Her Keds immediately touched bottom. She set down the knife on a bed of gravel, reached up, and eased the trapdoor shut.

Safe. Maybe.

She waited, huddling in the dark. Her fingers groped in the gravel until they found the wooden hasp of the knife. She drew it close to her.

Through the floor above her head, she could hear the vibrations of his footsteps. He was close-not in the kitchen but maybe in the den. He must have seen her through the window, and even if he hadn’t, he would know someone was home. The TV must be still warm, and the remains of her dinner sat on a tray on the coffee table.

He must be a burglar, but she had never heard of any homes being burglarized here in Midland, a hardscrabble town at the eastern edge of California, near the Colorado River, a town of ranchers and miners and people who wanted to be left alone. Nobody out here was rich. There was nothing to steal.

Then why was he here? And why tonight of all nights-the first night when she had ever been left alone?

Was he-the thought came to her like a sliver of a nightmare, intruding on rationality-was he after her?

Had he deliberately waited until she was alone? Waited for his chance to get her?

Crazy idea, but she couldn’t shake free of it. Fears from earlier phases of her childhood returned to her. The monster in the closet. The bear under the bed. The boogeyman.

That was what he was. The boogeyman, the terror of all children.

And now he was in the kitchen.

She heard the tread of his steps moving closer to where she lay, diminishing, approaching again. He was circling the kitchen. He must suspect that she had gone in there. But how could he know?

Maybe he had searched every other room, and this was the last place left. Or maybe he could smell her, the way a bloodhound sniffs out its prey.

Stop it. Stop thinking like that.

She was safe. She had to be safe. He couldn’t know about the crawl space. He couldn’t possibly find her.

Nonetheless, she wriggled a few feet away from the trapdoor until she found a vertical plumbing pipe in the darkness. It was thin and provided little cover, but she dragged herself behind it anyway, the knife still clutched in her hand.

The footsteps drifted nearer.

Had he seen the trapdoor? Had he guessed?

She waited, breath suspended.


A faint but brightening fan of light from the kitchen as the trapdoor was raised.

It lifted noiselessly, as it had before. In the sudden spill of light she looked around the crawl space for another exit or a better hiding place. There was nothing-only the gray spread of gravel, confusions of plumbing pipes here and there, the cobwebby subfloor that made a low roof overhead, and patches of darkness in the far corners.

If she could reach one of those corners she might kick through the latticework and escape outside. It was worth a try.

She started to crawl, and abruptly the light from the open trapdoor dimmed as a human figure crouched over the entryway.

She froze. Any movement, and she would be visible to him.

She couldn’t see him, only his shadow on the gravel floor. He was squatting down, motionless.

Then the shadow disappeared in a new blaze of light. His flashlight had snapped on.

The long orange beam probed the crawl space, tracking over the dirt and the plumbing pipes and the whorls of spider webs. Dead insects littered the dirt-husks of beetles, dried remnants of houseflies. A few yards from her lay something small and skeletal, which might have been a long-dead mouse or pack rat.

The beam played over one side of the crawl space, then blurred in C.J.’s direction and finally settled on her. She looked into the bright cone of light with frightened, blinking eyes.

From behind the light came a voice-a male voice in a whispery falsetto, the most evil voice she had ever heard.

“I spy,” he breathed, “with my little eye…”

Laughter, soft and mirthless, fading away.

The flashlight wavered. There was movement. He was shifting his position.

Climbing down.

Down into the crawl space with her, and when he did, there would be no place for her to go and no hope and no chance.

Blind terror drove her forward. She saw a slim, trouser-clad leg swinging down, and she lashed out at it with the knife.

He was quick, almost quick enough to anticipate the blow. The knife brushed his calf and tore the trouser leg, and then he was out of reach, squatting above her again.

She retreated a couple feet and waited, the knife held before her in both hands like a talisman.

Silence. Stillness.

Broken by his voice, breathless and mocking, still raised in a falsetto whisper. “You’re a fighter, Caitlin.”

He knew her name.

“Who are you?” she called out, fighting to keep her voice steady.

No answer.

“How do you know me?”

No answer.

“What do you want?”

This time, a reply. “I want you, Caitlin.”

His voice was not what she had expected. She’d thought it would be husky, gravelly, a dark, croaking voice, but instead it was soft and almost soothing, seductive as a python’s hiss.

“Want me for what?” she asked.


“Leave me alone!”

“Can’t do that, Caitlin. I’ve waited too long.”

She wanted to ask what he meant, but the words wouldn’t come. He explained anyway.

“I’ve been watching you. Biding my time. And now… tonight… my long wait ends. Tonight, Caitlin. Tonight.”

He had to be the boogeyman. Who else could he be?

The knife shook in her hands, but she did not loosen her grip.

In movies, she had seen how a panther or a tiger would coil up, then pounce. She knew he was doing the same thing. Tensing his body for a new attack.

It came. This time it was his arm that was thrust through the aperture, one gloved hand grabbing at her, nearly seizing her by the wrists. She twisted clear of his grasp and stabbed again, missing, and the arm retreated up the hole.

She edged sideways to a new position, then waited for the next assault.

She had seen little in the split second when he snatched at her, but enough to know that his arm was skinny and long. He wore a dark long-sleeved shirt and a black glove. He was not the raggedy man of her imagination. He was thin and sleek and quick.

How old was he? A teenager only a few years older than herself, or an adult? She couldn’t tell. His whispery voice gave nothing away, and she couldn’t see his face.

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