Laina choked. The burning in her throat intensified. Talons dug at her collarbone and scratched their way up her neck. Wrists compressed against the floor, she stretched her trembling fingertips across the gritty linoleum.
She gulped a breath. Tarry smoke laced with a hint of sulfur gusted into her nose and mouth, scathing her windpipe and delving into her lungs. A warped baritone voice chanted as if shouting under water. Two syllables rang louder, clear enough to be heard above the roar of acrid wind. Je-sus.
Laina forced air through her lips and croaked out a single cry. “Please, Jesus!”
A frigid tickle slid around the folds of her ear and licked its way into the canal. A vibrating voice hissed along with the flicking tongue. “You don’t know anyone by that name. I know what you truly believe in.” The voice deepened and resonated with a bellowing howl. “You believe in fear. Fear me, Laina Selving. I am your master, now. You cannot resist me!”
Pressure drilled her skull against the vinyl-skinned concrete. The back of her head ground against the floor as she tossed it side to side. She mouthed, No!
A tiny flame flickered beside her, dispelling the cloud of darkness with ripples of faint light. The candle’s glow illuminated sandy hair framing a blurry face with moving lips.
His muffled voice floated on warm drafts of molten vanilla wax. “Laina, do you …”
Growls erupted at her other ear. Pain stabbed into her shoulders, pinning her down.
She blinked at the man bending toward her. A glimmering steel cross slipped from his shirt and swung overhead. Laina ripped her arm up from the floor and grabbed the cross pendant.
“I want to know your Jesus, Arden,” she rasped. “I believe.”
“The Lord is good,
a refuge in times of trouble.
He cares for those who trust in him,
but with an overwhelming flood …
he will pursue his foes into the realm of darkness” (Nahum 1:7-8).