The cool breeze kissed my cheeks and unfurled my hair but did nothing to dry the stinging pools of fear that had welled in my eyes.
Shining bright, but not bright enough, the half-moon mocked me from where it sat pressed into the deep, dark sky. Even the stars had abandoned me, winking out of sight the moment I plunged into the dense woods.
Perhaps that was my own fault for stepping into the cover of trees. But I’d like to think when running for one’s life, the obvious thing to do wouldn’t be to hide in plain sight. Better to make it harder for them, even if it made it harder for me at the same time.
The obvious thing.
I choked back a wet snort.
How many fucking things had been obvious since day one? Since the moment these monsters waltzed into my life?
I’d been oblivious. I’d been too trusting. I’d been a fool.
I’d been in love.
Well, love did you no good when your heart, that fucking traitor, was pounding at an ungodly speed as you tried to outrun certain death or worse.
Adrenaline spiked my pulse higher, made my feet move faster, and spread my thoughts wider.
Don’t you dare give up on me now, you asshole. You got us into this mess, and I’ll be damned if you give out before we’ve seen the sun rise one more time.
I couldn’t remember anything past my visit to the local grocer. It all became a blur, a cacophony of vague memories. Tires skidding, screams, grunts, and cursing filled the air and then … quiet.
Nothing but me and the sound of my feet snapping twigs and scuffing over rocks, and my labored breathing.
Then another sound.
His voice echoed through the trees as though he had all the time in the world. As though he was walking languidly, strolling lazily behind me, uncaring of the fact I could get away. “You may as well stop, Jemima. We both know it’s useless.”
I would’ve scoffed if I didn’t have better things to do.
If I wasn’t so fucking petrified.
Too busy tossing a glance into the gloom behind me, I tripped over a fallen, hollowed out tree trunk.
No, I screamed to myself. This wouldn’t be how it ended.
My ankle panged in protest as I forced myself onto my hands and knees. The sound of leaves and twigs crunching filtered into my panicked brain, and my stomach heaved.
Before I could stand, a hand wrapped around my elbow, wrenching me from the damp, mildew-scented earth.
I acted on instinct, my knee rising to his crotch as I spun, then I stumbled away when his hand fell loose.
Again, I ran.
I ran, ignoring the pain in my ankle and the fear that had me wanting to bang my head against one of the blurring trees to wake up from this nightmare.
I ran from the pain in my heart.
I ignored it all and managed to smile when I saw the headlights of a lone car through the curtain of trees and foliage.
I could make it. I could run along the road until someone passed. Never mind it was late and we lived on the fringes of society, it would happen eventually.
Air escaped me in a rush. A scream tore itself from my lungs, echoing into the silence as a sharp bite penetrated my skin.
“Fuck,” I whimpered, slowing and reaching around to pluck what looked like a dart from the back of my arm. With my heart trembling, I staggered back into a tree as warmth spread from the stinging prick and oozed into every limb of my body.
Losing control of my legs, I fell to my ass. Hard. Yet I couldn’t feel it. I couldn’t feel a thing as I stared up at the sky and searched for the moon through the giant treetops, for one last source of light.
I found it, clung to it as my breathing slowed and my vision frayed.
“I told you it was useless.”
The moon disappeared, his calm words following me into the dark.