Consequences

Prologue

The Dream

It was happening again. I sighed. It was really becoming a little old. I had been having the same reoccurring dream since I was nine. Same rolling field, same distant cottages. Same quaint, low stone walls. I could hear the same stream murmuring through the same woods to my right. I was tired of standing around in the field, tired of trudging all the way to the cottage and knocking on the door until my hand hurt. It was always empty. I was completely alone in this picturesque little fantasy. This time I felt like breaking tradition. Instead of visiting the empty cottage, I decided to explore the wood and try to find the stream. At least it would be more interesting than standing outside in the monotonously cheerful sunshine.

I veered from my accustomed course toward the cool shade of the wood. I could see the blackness of the interior shadows lighten to shades of gray and then into the deep greens and rich browns of the woods sheltered by a thick canopy. I was almost under the protection of the outer edge of the trees when I heard it: the low menacing growl of an animal whose territory is being threatened. I stopped cold, frightened. I didn't know what could be living in these woods. The day was shining warmly around me, inviting me to stay, and the woods in front of me seemed to vibrate with a warning to stay away. I took a hesitant step backward and heard the growl again. My heart jumped and my breath quickened.

I noticed a sudden change in the day, the sun was becoming obscured by thick, dense clouds rolling in and the wind had picked up to blow around me in cold gusts. My hair began swirling around me and the chill numbed the tips of my fingers. I heard the growl again, this time closer. I took another step backward. Get inside, my instincts told me, but it was too late. The sun was gone and the false night of the storm had unleashed a nightmare. It stalked me from the darkness of the trees, coming closer even as I stood there, unable to run.

It was the eyes, evil, glowing red eyes, that finally spurred me to action. I turned and ran flat out for the nearest shelter: the perpetually empty cottage. I knew that I would never make it, that the predator behind me could easily overtake me. I ran, gasping for breath, desperate for just a few more seconds to get to safety. I felt the hot breath on the back of my neck – and I awoke, drenched in a cold sweat, safely in my own bed.