Pain exploded in her temple as her head struck a jagged rock jutting up from the forest floor. She wasn’t sure if she tripped or just collapsed — her feet, blistered and bleeding, had gone numb from running.
Get up! run! Her brain begged her to act, but her body refused to listen.
The ground was damp from the previous night’s rain. Dirt and dead leaves clung to her naked flesh as she rolled over and looked up at the treetops towering over her. Moonlight cut between the branches and danced with the leaves as it filtered down toward her. She imagined dissolving into the moonlight and floating back up through the trees.
That was him. She had two choices, lay here and wait for him to take her or will herself to get up and run.
No, not like this, she thought, forcing herself to her feet. Her knees threatened to buckle as the numbness in her feet was replaced by the sensation of thousands of nerve endings screaming to life.
Still woozy from her fall, the forest warped and spun around her as she took one step and then another and then another. Before long, she was running as fast as her feet could carry her. Tree limbs reached out for her, scratching her bare skin. Rocks and twigs pierced her feet and her ankles. It was as if the forest was conspiring against her.
Heart pounding and lungs burning, she pushed herself further and further. And, just as she felt she couldn’t go anymore, a dim light flickered in the distance.
She stopped, panting to catch her breath. She listened for signs that he was near, but all she could hear was her own pulse thumping against the ringing in her own ears.
Once she could breathe again, she pushed forward toward the light. As she approached the red glow, she could smell the unmistakable aroma of a campfire and hear the sound of children laughing.
She reached the edge of a clearing and saw four figures huddled around the fire. With every ounce of strength she had left, she propel herself forward into the clearing and collapsed to her knees.
The startled eyes of the young family made her suddenly aware of her own nakedness. She crossed her arms across her chest and curled up into a ball, pleading and apologizing through heaving sobs.
The mother grabbed a blanket and threw it over her. “You’re safe,” she murmured.
The father brought her some water and then helped her to her feet.
I’m going home, she thought, as he lead her toward the car. And, then…
Credits: Cover photo courtesy of enki22