Some people adore the woodlands and forests. They see nothing but wonder and beauty. They feel nothing but peace and tranquillity walking through the trees, listening to the sounds of the birds and the creatures that reside there.
You know how I feel about the woods.
The woods are ever watchful. The woods are wary of any trespassers. The woods are cold and unforgiving in their treatment of anyone who does not belong there. The woods play tricks on the unsuspecting traveller. You think you know your way, but the woods play with your senses, until you are lost and dazed and exhausted. The woods torment you until you are at your weakest, and then they strike. The woods show no mercy.
The woods are the vampires of the natural world.
There was a thin man-made path through the bushes just beyond the entrance to the woods. I crept along the path, brushing snow off the outstretched branches that lined each side as my body pushed its way through the narrow gap in the vegetation. The bushes were thorn covered and I was glad for the protective padded coat that I wore. I kept my uncovered hands as far away from the spikes as possible and tried to move any extra long branches out of the way using my arm.
I figured that my best bet was to follow this path, as I was sure that this was the way that Michael must have used to reach the cottage.
Pretty soon, the path opened out to maybe a few feet in width and gave me more distance from the sharp bushes that guarded the woodland on both sides. I had walked barely thirty metres into the woods when I stopped and turned in a full circle, scanning the area with my torch. Behind me, through the trunks of the sentry oaks, I could see lights emanating from the windows of my home. The snow was less deep here than it was out on the lane, simply because the trees obstructed some of the downfall but it was still thick enough to spot any tracks that Michael might have left.
Nothing. The snow was clean and untouched.
I took the opportunity to call for him again.
I heard my voice echo through the trees but heard no answer to my call. I waited and listened. I hated the fact that it was so eerily silent. I expected to hear the sound of some animal, disturbed and frightened by my voice. I expected to hear some winter bird, fluttering off through the trees, shaking the leaves as it fled. But I could hear nothing but the sound of my own breathing.
I continued along the widened path, shining the torch light into the trees either side of me as I walked, taking it slow and steady, not wanting to miss any sign of Michael having been here. I could no longer see the lights from my cottage. It was amazing what small comfort it had been to see those lights blinking through the tree’s, like little beacons marking my way home and now they were gone I could feel the cold creeping in around me. I cursed myself for not wearing gloves as I felt my fingers feeling stiff and icy. I pulled down the sleeves on my coat as far as I could to protect my hands from the wintry air.
Oh, Michael where are you? I’m freezing my ass off out here!
I made a mental note to threaten him with something sharp when I caught up with him.
The further I walked, the denser and darker the woods seemed to become. Freezing fog clung to the floor and my torch struggled to break through the mist. It was definitely colder here. There was little moonlight so I knew that during the day, the sun must have found it difficult to break through the trees despite their lack of foliage. It was a cold, desolate place.
I stopped, turned and searched the area around me. This was ridiculous! I had seen no footprints, no sign that Michael had even been here. How did I know that he hadn’t turned off the path somewhere further back? How did I know that he had even returned to the woods after he fled through the back door?
Just as I had decided to turn back, I felt that familiar prickle course up my neck and I heard a noise coming from behind me and I swung back around, flashing the torch light into the shadows.
I waited, still as the night, and fought to listen over the sound of my heart thumping. It had sounded like something moving amongst the trees; a body brushing up against the branches.
‘Michael?’ It came out barely a whisper. If it was Michael, surely he would appear? He had no reason to hide in the woods. Unless of course he had decided to ambush me and finish what I had requested of him back at the cottage.
I exhaled in short, shallow breaths expecting him to come charging out of the undergrowth. The trees seemed to mock me from all sides. If they could laugh, I knew I would be hearing their hysterical cackles right now, however I could hear nothing. The silence seemed more ominous than encouraging.
Then from behind me I heard definite movement and swept my torch round in a wild arc, whilst desperately trying to retrieve the knife from the belt around my waist. In a disastrous, fumbling effort the knife tumbled from the sheath and I scrambled to pick it up off the snow covered ground. As I crouched low to the ground, the torch light picked up something that I had not noticed at first as I had turned around, probably because I had descended into sheer panic mode and could only think about arming myself with the knife.
About ten metres in front of me, a line of footprints crossed the path that I had walked, appearing from out of the trees and bushes on one side and disappearing into the undergrowth on the opposite side.
Those footprints had definitely not been there when I had walked along that stretch of path.
I was frozen in fear. I wanted to move but I couldn’t. I couldn’t even stand. I remained crouched closed to the ground, with one hand gripping the torch and the other clasping the handle of the knife.
Why was he doing this to me?
If he was going to kill me, he could just do it now! Did he really despise me so much that he wanted to torture me first?
Although my body was forced immobile in sheer terror, my eyes darted from side to side, desperately searching for that first sign of movement. The prickling of my vampire sense was now immensely strong; so strong that I felt as if I could hear a dull buzzing in my head, like the drone of a swarm of bees. My skin sparked goose-bumps all over. I wanted to place my hands over my ears to drown out the buzzing, it was making me feel giddy and I had to steady myself against the ground.
I had to think clearly. I needed to think clearly if I was going to escape him.
He was playing games with me. He was circling me, like a wild cat hunts down its prey. He was coming at me from all sides, making me whirl around to find him, trying to confuse me.
I knew I couldn’t outrun him. He knew that I knew that, so he expected me to stay put. He expected me to stand and fight.
But you know me, I like to disappoint people. It’s something I’m very good at.
So I sprang from my crouched position, propelling my body forward with maximum force and spurred on by sheer terror and adrenalin. My arms pumped at my sides and I threw myself along the path, paying little attention to the bushes that tried to snatch at me with outstretched branches, snagging my skin on the brawny thorns.
I heard movement behind me and I imagined Michael with that dark, blank look in his eyes, pursuing me, intent on finally getting his kill. I was his, and he was going to take me, whether I liked it or not.
Copyright (c) Lindsey Clarke 2010 all rights reserved