The room became deathly silent. Without any sound, not even the ubiquitous traffic noise that any city-dweller gets used to, she felt completely restless. Her back ached, her wrists hurt and her eyes burned. She wanted to lay down for a while, her throat was parched again and hunger pangs began gnawing at her innards. She knew she had to keep up her faith. Her faith was what would keep her alive.
It was her sin that had brought her to this eventuality. Her faith was not true, or she would not have been tested this way. Whatever would happen, she had only herself to blame for it. For some sort of respite, she began to pray.
Our Father, thou art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name…
The air outside was thick and foggy. She began to feel the biting cold. Here and there, she would hear the cry of a wolf and stiffen again. With a faltering voice, her prayer went on.
…thy kingdom come,
thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
She kept her eyes tightly shut now. Even the shadows cast on the wall in the cramped room seemed to be lunging at her.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us…
The wolf sounds! They were now getting closer. She felt them to be closer, at least. Had they sniffed that she was alone? Was that what the tall stranger wanted? Had he brought her to her death?
Lead us not into temptation but…
Her eyes opened in a flash, wide open, and she looked this way and that. The room was still, as still as it could be, but something was different. Something had definitely roused her. She was helpless in her position, but only if she could see what the danger was. Then she saw the window on her left.
The window—it was slightly ajar.
Something had entered the room.
Just like that, she started yelling.
“Help me! Help me! I am trapped! Help!”
She yelled long and hard, till she drained every ounce of energy in her lungs. Her vocal chords ached, her eyes were a mess with all the tears, and her spittle and sweat wetted the front of her dress. She thought she would pass out, and this would be it. There was no saving for her. This was her destiny. She fell silent.
The wolf who had entered through the window circled around her once, but her eyes were tightly shut and she did not see the creature. He came right in front of her and crouched into a sitting position, much like a dog watching her. It was only when he gave a hollow growl that she opened her eyes and looked right into him.
He seemed docile at first, almost like an obedient sheepdog, but a wolf is a wolf. She started squirming in her seat, very slowly, so as not to incite the animal’s wrath. But the rickety chair didn’t share her intentions. It creaked as she flailed about, but it still bore her weight admirably.
The acute senses of the wolf alerted him to the movement of the woman. That made him stand up and look at the woman with an intimidating stare, its fangs open and threatening. Saliva dripped from his bared fangs. New tears began to form on Jacinta’s face but her voice had completely dried out. There were no words left.
Then the wolf decided that he had to defend himself. He was not sure about the human in front of him; the animal could not understand that the human was totally incapacitated by the gags. He made his defensive move. Slowly he walked forward, almost like a tigress stalking its prey, and then made the jump.
Jacinta closed her eyes. Totally unable to do anything, there was little she could do anyway. But just as she resigned herself to her fate, in ready acceptance of whatever would happen, the door of the woodhouse opened with a flourish.
She opened her eyes and saw how the person who had just entered through the door made a sweeping attack on the wolf with a hunting knife, cleanly stabbing his neck and severing his spine. Blood sputtered out of the wolf’s open spine and he fell to the ground with a thud. The wolf gave a final howl and lay motionless on the floor.
With weakened eyes, she looked at the person who had come in. He was not the tall man. This was another person, shorter and a bit portly, with a balding head and wearing rags. Presently, he rushed to her and started unbinding her.
“Who are you? Who did this?” he asked.
She could not utter a single syllable through her emaciated lips.
“Okay, okay, don’t speak. I am here now. You are safe. I will take you out.”
She was free but it was useless. She could not move. He carried her in his arms, and she somehow felt she could trust this man, who was nothing else but another stranger. But a stranger who helps is more trustworthy than a stranger who harms. Nothing was in her hands anyway.
This man was her protector.
He took her to a clearing and made her sit on the rocks under a tree. “It will be light soon,” he said. “Once dawn breaks, I will take you to the main road, and get you to your house. It will be just a little while more.”
“Thanks,” she said.
“But who are you?”
She told him about herself. She told him about her abductor. And, at the very mention of him, she saw the man’s face turn pale.
“Where is he now?” he asked, and she could smell the fear in his words.
“I don’t know,” she said. “He left me tied in the cottage and went, saying that he would be back in the morning.”
“Morning he said?”
He looked all around and made her hide herself a little more in the bushes. “We have to hide from him,” he said. “He is a very dangerous man. Did he do anything to you?”
She thought she understood what he meant. “No,” she said.
“Then it’s good so far. We just have to be away from his sight. But, trust me, it is very difficult to stay away from him.”
“Do you know him?” she asked.
“I wish I didn’t.”