Artwork by Jemma Clamp
Her breaths shook in rapid grasps. Trees approached and blurred past her. She jinked one side to the other, hopping over obstacles that littered the forest floor. She threw herself downhill. Air was dragged desperately into her lungs. She was afraid. She was running for her life.
Trees and branches rushed towards her. She suddenly sprang off her right foot and darted to the left. Through the sounds of her breathing, her heartbeat, and the claustrophobic rustles of the forest another set of footsteps could be heard, purposive, giving chase. FUCK! Her eyes flitted across the procession of trees in search of a possible path to take. The forest had grown denser, the branches reached out in hooks. She forced herself through a thicket and felt a hot sweet sensation as something sharp clawed itself down the length of her back. She yelped and gritted her teeth. Run! Fucking run! She felt blood wetting the back of her leg.
“Look at the mess you’ve gotten yourself into.” a voice cooed through the forest. Her head whipped around in shock before returning forward in time to narrowly avoid a tree. “Come back, you’re so much better off with me.”
“GO AWAY!” she screamed, purging her lungs of air before sucking in the next breath.
She was now using her arms, swiping away braches, pushing her way forward, forgetting self-preservation, driven by the strongest sense of fear that blinded all thoughts except that she had to run.
She felt the presence behind her, its fingers barely touched the nape of her neck. She clenched her eyes shut and ducked forward. Nauseating shivers crept across her body. She grabbed at the ground and flung dirt backwards. Premature screams resided in every exhale. She couldn’t escape this nightmare. Tears streamed backwards from the corners of her eyes into her hair.
She opened her bleary eyes and they immediately trained themselves on a spot of light barely visible through the black web of branches. Her body immediately sharpened in its movements. She lunged and leapt, snapping branches under her steps as she thrust forward.
“NO! YOU CAN’T LEAVE ME!” The voice shrieked.
She burst into the light. Falling to the ground she scrambled blindly, creating distance from the dark forest edge. She stopped. Her head was lowered, she looked at nothing. Her breaths began to steady, the warmer air relaxed her lungs. She was tired. She looked up. Soft beams of light shone through the treetops, cradling the dust that floated in the air. The air was painted in brushstrokes of varying shades of gold. The ground was soft and warm.
She heard rustling behind her and turned to face it. The figure of a girl stood at the edge of the forest. Her arm was held behind the trunk of a tree as if using it for comfort. She seemed unwilling to part from it, caught in a moment of hesitation. Her face was not unlike her own, yet it fluctuated, breaking into fragments, a mosaic that billowed in an internal wind, fluxing and reforming. At first an angry scowl seethed amongst the rippling shards, however gradually a sense of sadness and longing began to appear.
“Please don’t leave me…” Her eyes fluttered on the verge of tears.
A sense of peace seemed to extend the distance between them. She gave the girl a final look of understanding before she turned away and strode amongst the light.