…She reaches the clearing with the sparse, gangly trees that seem to reach out to her. She knows this clearing well, but tonight she feels her heart accelerating and notices the prickling of the hair on her neck. Instincts? She senses something. Or someone. Her breathing starts to deepen and pick up. Her ragged, exhaled breaths are forming puffy, white clouds in front of her mouth. On the other side of the clearing resides the road. The street lights across the way are providing just enough light for her to see, but not enough to calm her senses.
Trying to steady herself, she starts walking forward. She only has to make it through to the road and down a block. Then she’s home. Home, where she can lock the doors. Where she can go upstairs to her room and fall asleep. Where her trusty German Shepherd will be standing guard. Where she will be safe.
A loud crunch echos through the clearing. She jumps and whirls around. There is nothing that catches her attention, but she knows that there is something she should see. She squints her eyes, quickly evaluating every shadow. Why! She thinks. Why did I decline the ride and decide to walk?
It’s unnervingly silent now. Where is the wind? Not a single whispered leaf, nor a brushing twig. It feels lifeless.
A dog barks a single yip in the distance. The shrill noise is piercing in the otherwise silent air.
She starts taking more shaky steps. A few steps forward and she notices a difference in the earth below her. Moist? The fallen leaves are no longer crunchy under her feet. But instead, mushy and slippery. She looks down. Yes. It’s definitely wet right here. But how could it be? It hasn’t rained in three weeks. As her eyes begin adjusting to the darkness of the ground, she starts to see the deep red. These leaves are wet by something red… She looks a little to the left and sees something. Trash of some sort. No, wait. Maybe an article of clothing? She can sense the danger growing even more. She is compellingly curious, so she bends down and fingers the cloth. It almost feels warm, like life had barely left it. More red. She wipes her finger across the dampness. Standing up, she lifts her now moist finger into the faint light. As she stares at the red, her heart start thumping even more wildly in her chest.
There it is! The sound she was subconsciously waiting for.
This new sound is not coming from her. The breathing is coarse. Deep. Haunting. With her finger still extended, she slowly turns to face the noise. She is staring into the daunting trees and something is now moving. A dark form starts to emerge. It is coming straight to her. The breathing is creeping closer.
The form abruptly stops about 20 feet away. The windless air seems to push them closer together, and the only two sounds are breathing. One terrified. The other chilling.
“This will be much easier if you don’t run.” The sentence was calm. Matter-of-fact.
As quickly as the form stopped, it starts it’s advance. It bolts forward!
She lets out a quick scream but knows that she needs to use her energy for the race. She spins around and starts running. It isn’t fast enough, as she can practically feel the ground being smacked by the feet of her predator. Her panic sends her stumbling over the brush and leaves. Her right foot gets snagged by a stray stick and sends her staggering forward. She feels her shoe come off, but she regains her balance and continues. Her aggressor is groaning; from the excursion from running, the chase, or the pleasure of whats to come, she doesn’t know.
Her shoeless foot smashes against a large rock and she lets out a cry. She topples forward and her face slams into the unforgiving ground. The attacker lunges onto her and pins her down. It flips her over and she stares into his face. His deathly, empty eyes are laughing at her pitiful attempts to escape. He allows himself a smile and she knows it’s over. He’s won.
He releases one of her arms he was holding down and reaches to his hip. Of course. A knife. He pulls the knife above her.
Her screams ring into the cold, crisp air until they are cut short.
Finally, the wind picks back up and brings life whirling back through the clearing. No more scared leaves. No more silent trees.