By James Pagatpatan
Thwap, thwap, thwap rang in Claire’s ears and her arms stung as the pine branches whipped across her body. The branches she could deal with, but the coarse soil and sharp rocks dug painfully into her bare feet. Death was almost a certainty if she allowed the forest to slow her down. Picking up speed, she pushed her muscles to work even harder. Darkness enveloped her. She had to let blind faith guide her in the hopes of making it through the night alive.
Suddenly, Claire’s legs were knocked out from under her and she lurched forward, tumbling over and over, twigs and rocks biting into her skin. Pointed pine cones dug their tines into her lower back, shoulders and any other patch of vulnerable skin. She stopped, sprawled on her back. Aching everywhere, especially her right shin, she tried to bring herself back from the edge of unconsciousness. Feeling her mind slip away, she fought hard to focus on something. The sharp throb trying to burst from inside her skull was a good starting place.
Can’t let go. Gotta get up! Can’t stop! Her mind churned as she tried to stand. I must have hit a log or something. Steadying herself, she prepared to run when the piercing shot echoed through the dark silence. Oh God! Panicked, she dropped to the ground, desperately hoping he wouldn’t find her among the fallen branches and dead stumps. She stayed still, fearing the crunching leaves beneath would give her away. Heart racing, sweat stinging her eyes, she listened to the sound of dried leaves and small sticks being crushed under her attacker’s approaching footsteps. As she fought the sweeping waves of nausea she closed her eyes tightly and held her breath.
They snapped open wide when she heard the click, and even wider when the yellow beam lit her face. His face was only a dim shadow. A ghostly pale visage with shadows instead of eye sockets, leered down at her. Although his nose was half hidden, she could see the holes of his nostrils flaring as he filled his lungs. The demonic trickery of the shadows turned his features into something more sinister.
“You’ll have to be punished my dear,” he rasped. Her shriek sliced the darkness, and a blackness took over her mind.
The crash of broken glass forced Claire back to reality. Blurred vision subsiding, she glanced around, recollecting being caught by the man in the woods. What? Where is he? Why didn’t he kill me? She wondered scanning the room. She tried to sit up, muscles screaming with resistance, and managed to pull herself up. Her wrists lay cris crossed
behind her back. The large lump knot rested snugly beside her palm. Looking down the length of her body, there didn’t seem to be any other restraints. I wonder why he only tied my hands? Hmmm, doesn’t matter. I need to get outta here. Fingering the knot with her left hand, it rested just outside the reach of her other hand. Her fingers struggled but failed to pull the knot into the center. Rolling onto her back, she braced herself against the mattress and twisted the rope around her hands. The coarse fibers burned her skin as harsh threads bit in deep. Wincing, a small cry escaped her throat as the knot slid between her palms, accessible by all ten fingers. Using her index fingers, Claire buried their tips into the knot’s center. Sliding in easily, she loosened it and plucked the knot apart almost effortlessly. That was tied sloppily… Claire thought climbing onto her feet, bed springs creaking as she rose. I’m lucky this time, can’t let him catch me again.
She’d been placed in a small bedroom. The room was bare; a dim lamp and a small dresser in one of the corners were the only hint of life in the room. A small twin bed layered with a single white sheet and a fragile brass frame rested against the opposite wall. Crusted blood was caked in the middle of the sheet. Claire reached behind and winced as she gingerly fingered a wound on her back. Examining her fingers, she saw small red spots rubbed off on her hand. Looking herself over, she noticed a few scabbed gashes across her arms. A massive purple bruise had spread from the bottom of her knee cap to mid shin. Underneath her hair was a sore egg sized lump. The fall really did a number on me.
A small door with a series of thin slits across the top caught her attention.
Hatchet marks? Knife slits?
“Mommy?” a small voice whispered.
“Alice? Alice!” Claire looked around. “Where are you?”
“The closet I think. Please get me out!” Alice whispered, voice breaking with fear and excitement. Claire rushed to the door and turned the knob. Locked. Gripping the knob with both hands, she gave a mighty tug. Despite it’s gouged surface, it held solidly.
“Honey, are you ok?” Claire held back a sob. “The door is locked. I gotta go find the key.”
“I’m hungry Mommy…” the seven year old whined.
“As soon as I get us outta here, you can have all you want. Ok, I’ll be right back, until then don’t make a sound.”
“Why did he take me? I didn’t want to go with him . . . I was supposed to be able to trust him! Why did he do this to me?” A small surge of anger erupted from the Alice.
“I don’t know. I’m here now. I’ll fix everything.” Claire replied, hoping it was a promise she could keep.
“Ok, please, please hurry.” Alice pleaded.
“I will, be brave.” She heard the girl quietly sobbing as she tore herself away from Alice’s prison and crept out of the room. The bedroom door clicked and gave way easily. That’s strange, he didn’t lock this one. Is he waiting for me? Is he hiding? He could be anywhere. Defenseless, she carried on into the abyss. The hall was dark and silent, deathly silent. Reaching for the wall, she let the pointed pieces of stucco guide her in a straight line. The hall seemed to stretch for miles as she made her way toward the other side. At the hall’s end, a faint glow came to view. Holding her breath she stepped toward it, legs trembling and knees threatening to buckle with each step.
The den was lit by a dozen or so white candles. On the floor lay the man who’d chased her. A broken gin bottle lay beside him. He drank himself into a stupor. No wonder he tied me so poorly and left the door open. Also beside him was the body of his wife, head still a pulpy, bloody mess from where Claire had cracked her with the baseball bat. Guess I don’t have to worry about her anymore . . . she thought. Claire’s mind replayed the memory of that afternoon and how she struck the defenseless woman when she opened to front door. She was hoping for the man to answer her knock. Closing her eyes when she heard the door swing open. She raised her weapon and slammed it down blindly at her target. Flinching at the sound of the body collapsing, she gasped realizing that heaped body on the ground was not the one she was looking for.
Cautiously she approached the couple. The man, obviously distraught by her death, had drunk himself into a coma. She kneeled beside the bodies, picked up the broken bottle neck and started searching his jeans for the key. An anxious hand slipped into his left hip pocket. Empty. Sitting up and taking a second to get her breathing under control, she reached into his other hip pocket.
With a small moan, the man rolled onto his side. Claire swiftly pulled her hand away. The way the material had been pulled taut against his thigh revealed that this pocket was also empty. Damn, I gotta turn him. She cursed to herself. Setting her weapon down and gripping him by his shoulder and hip, she tugged, gasped and cried out as his cold calloused hand grabbed hers. Staring into maniacal bloodshot eyes, she reached for the bottle, curled her fingers around its neck and plunged the jagged edges of her weapon into his fleshy throat. His new wound gurgled and bubbled into a bloody geyser as he struggled to take a breath.
Claire backed away as a shaky hand reached out and tried to make a grab for her. Mercifully, he gave up his struggle, his labored breath coming slower and slower as his broken trachea filled with blood. With a strained sigh, he laid his head back and his eyes rolled into the back of his head, drowning in his own fluids. Claire resumed her position and forced him onto his belly, rammed her hand into his right rear pocket and touched the teeth of the key.
As she opened the door, the girl sprang into Claire’s arms. Squeezing Claire
tightly and burying herself in the warmth and safety of her chest, Alice turned her head and cried into her mother. All her pent up fear and frustration, her suppressed tears and all her body’s hurt all came out as she wept. Finally getting the release that she longed for.
“Did that bastard hurt you?” She asked despite her daughter’s obvious swollen lip and blackened and puffy eyes. Claire looked over the rest of Alice. Despite some small scratches on her arms, her clothes looked intact. A small grass stain stuck to the knees of her jeans from when she was abducted from the park. Other than a beating, she looked clear of all other abuses. Her clothes would have been ripped or missing if anything sexual had occurred. Pulling her daughter into a tighter embrace, an overwhelming sense of relief replaced all other thoughts in Claire’s mind. She allowed her own tears to dribble down her cheeks.
“I’m ok, can we go home now?” Alice asked.
“Yes baby, let’s go.” Holding hands, they headed out of the house. As they passed the corpses, Claire took a candle and threw it onto the puddle of gin beside the bodies and watched the blaze start to devour them. She wondered if the Hellish flames that awaited their souls would be hotter than the ones eating their flesh. Serves them right for taking Alice from me.
“Bye Daddy . . . ” Alice muttered. Claire watched her daughter’s blank face, and a single tear slid down Alice’s cheek as they walked into the forest hand and hand.
“Are you okay Mommy?” Said Alice looking up at her mother.
“Yes, honey, I’m all right.” Claire replied gently.
“Me too, Mommy. . . Me too.” The girl reassured.
Alice will be okay, she’s young, but she’s strong. Claire considered, gazing into
the horizon. The light and warmth of the rising sun gave promises to soothe the horrors
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