I fling the door open wide and take off into the dimly lit night. The moon is hanging low tonight. It illuminates the uneven and stubbly ground. My bare feet mould around the bumps and outcrops, trying their best to keep purchase as I catapult myself forward.
I can’t go back. The pain …
I run toward the trees. I could have chosen the driveway, and then the road, but I would be easier to follow. The trees stand as sentries for the anonymity the woods provide.
My breathing becomes laboured as soon as I break through the first layer of trees. The light instantly disappears except for dapples here and there, where branch doesn’t exactly meet branch. I keep running, though my feet are now struggling to adapt to the ground I cannot see.
I can still hear the echoes of them beckoning me back; I can hear their placating words, and the falsification oozing from each syllable.
My heart feels as though it is going to break through my rib cage, or at least pop out through my throat. With the amount of air my body is trying to draw in, and the amount of carbon dioxide it is trying to expel, it’s entirely possible. I can’t stop … I won’t.
As I run, my face collides with a low-hanging branch. The impact causes me to be thrown onto my back. Groaning, I lift myself up and brush the damp leaves clinging to the fabric of my clothing.
I daub my fingers at my face, eventually discerning that I am not bleeding, but I am going to have a lovely bruise that will divide my face in half when it develops … if it has a chance to.
My feet take off again, using the incentive that I think I might be able to see the light of the moon basking the ground, and thus the other side of the woods … finally.
As I get closer, I realise that the patch of undiluted moonlight is actually a clearing. I slump onto a tree stump to catch my breath. Somewhere, beneath the fallen leaves and twigs, and among the tufts of grass, crickets are making their own music. My heart makes the drum beat—gadoonk, gadoonk, gadoonk, gadoonk.
My mind teleports back to the shack that I just left. Lights, colours, sweat and screams flick through an accelerated slideshow in my head. I remember pliers, wire, and a raging fire pit in the middle of a room. Unconsciously, I gently rub my wrists.
Now … this may hurt …
The memory of how I got into that situation eludes me. I thought that I was going visiting with my grandma, then …
I slowly stand and survey the clearing. There are a couple of tree stumps dotted throughout, and the ground covering consists of only tufts of grass, not a full blanket. I feel as though this is the meeting place of all the creatures of the wood—the place where they discussed the impropriety of the fox’s behaviour toward the squirrel when he ate the poor thing.
‘Darling! Where are you?’ a sweet voice floats through the crisp air.My breath hitches in my throat, and I immediately take off in the opposite direction I came from.
My feet are hurting now. I feel as though they have been sliced right down to the bone. Low hanging branches are thwacking my legs with every attempt to hurdle or scoot around them. Why did I wear a dress?
It’s not a choice. I’m sorry.
There were three of them. They all gathered around me, with ghastly and toothy smiles. I couldn’t move. I just looked up at them, my face contorting and threatening to release an onset of tears.
They circled me, like lions stalking their prey, but instead chanting something in what I can only assume was Latin. I fought against the bindings they had me in, but all it did was give me rope burn.
The young man seemed to enjoy my struggle. Every time he saw my wrists jerk against the rope, his smile enlarged that little more. I think he was grandma’s friend’s grandson. I didn’t really stick around to figure out the family ties. They just kept calling him Cal.
Don’t forget the ankles, Cal. Tie ’em up nice and tight.
The cold night air burns my lungs as I push on through the scrub. I’m starting to think that I can’t take much more. I’m starting to think that I have lost this fight.
I remember my grandmother leant over me; the light reflecting off her false teeth burned holes in my retinas. She told me that it would probably hurt, but it was for the best. It wasn’t a choice, and that she was sorry. Then she went to go help her friend grind up some sort of herb and spice mixture in a mortar and pestle.
‘Oh, girly!’ Cal’s voice winds through the tree trunks, ‘Come on, girly! We’re not done yet! We promise not to hurt you! More than necessary, that is! Where are you, girly?’
The hum of a motorbike echoes around me. He’s close. Too close. I make a vain attempt to pick up the pace, and all of a sudden I am on the other side of the woods.
I can hear the ocean pounding violently against stone. I’m cornered.
Once Cal gets out of the woods on that motorbike, he’s going to get me in seconds. The ground out here is pretty flat, and there are very few plants to weave around. I’m done for … again.
The motorbike is becoming louder; I can no longer hear the sound of my own breath. Carefully, I take a few tentative steps forward. The wind howls like a wounded wolf around my ears, and gets stronger the closer I get to the edge.
I survey the area around me; the woods are about 300m behind me, Cal and his motorbike are about halfway between them and me. There’s nothing along the coast to my left and right for as far as the light will allow me to see. And then, in front of me, the ocean, gurgling and crashing beneath me. I can see pitch black teeth-like formations jutting from the water.
‘Gotcha girly!’ Cal yells over the cacophony.
And without warning or ceremony, I descend through the air and land between the jowls of the watery depths.