A/N: This is something I wrote for a short story contest at my local library a year or two ago. It's not the greatest, and definitely a far cry from my norm. Still I like it, and I hope you like it too.
She was running.
Dark trees rose up around her, creating a convoluted and impregnable fortress that was impossible to escape. Roots managed to find their way beneath her feet, causing her to stumble, and debris crunched loudly as she stumbled carelessly over it. The rich soil churned beneath her bare feet, forming an undulating carpet under her as she ran. Rays of moonlight filtered through the branches, speckling the ground with patches of light and making the shadows dance an eerie waltz around her. Her breath came in harsh pants, but she paid it no attention. Her only goal now was to escape.
She couldn't hear her pursuer, but she knew he was there, flying after her on feet as swift as Hermes'. She knew his long legs were propelling him after her, gaining more and more ground with each bound. She could imagine the moonlight gleaming off of his porcelain skin, shining like a beacon in the starry night. She could almost hear his calm breaths, as though the fast pace hadn't affected him. Yet she could not tell where he was, could not pinpoint his location. She only knew that he was out there somewhere, a phantom in the darkness.
Perhaps by subconscious design, or perhaps by pure luck, she stumbled into a bright clearing, where the light shone on the grass as though it were a field of pearls. She glanced around furtively, trying to discern signs of a trap; finding none, she whirled around, checking for signs of pursuit. But she could see nothing, and she deemed it safe enough to rest for a second and gather her strength. After all, dawn was still an hour or two away, and she would desperately need her strength in the coming fight. Chest heaving, she flopped onto the damp grass and closed her eyes. She relaxed all her muscles and slipped into a trance, shutting out the the world. Thirty seconds, she told herself. Thirty seconds, and she would start running again. Thirty seconds to rejuvenate herself. She started counting silently as her breath evened out a little. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six.
She leaped to her feet and stifled a scream as a whisper reverberated around the clearing. "Come to me..." it called, riding on the breeze like a feather. Her head whipped around, pupils dilated, as she tried to find her pursuer. It had been a mistake to rest, a mistake not to keep running. But she couldn't change that now. Heart pounding, she picked up a fist sized rock from the ground and concealed it in her hand. If it came to a fight, at least she would have a weapon. She became as still as a statue, trying to seek him out by sound and sight alone. But the night stayed quiet, save for her beating heart, and she feared that he would hear it. A grating laugh threatened to burst from her lips in the next second, for what had she to fear? This was the final stand. He had found her. The next few moments would seal her fate.
She had lost.
She stood there for one minute, two minutes, five minutes, ten minutes, waiting for him to reveal himself. And yet he did not appear. The night began to fade as slowly, dawn crept upon them, and finally, she began to hope. If she could hold out for just a few moments longer, she would be safe. The sun would rise and cloak her in it's golden light, and she would be beyond his reach.
As the time stretched longer and the dawn crept closer, she began to think he had realized the danger and left her. She heaved a silent sigh of relief and relaxed her muscles once more. Adrenaline coursed through her veins like so much liquid fire, setting her ablaze. The thrill of the chase and the joy of having escaped rushed through her, giving her world a bright glow. She dropped the rock and shifted her weight, preparing to run to her final freedom.
She missed the faint whisper of the leaves as he ghosted through them, however, and that was her undoing. With sunrise just a few minutes away, she had thought he didn't have enough time. But she had sorely underestimated him. It happened in a split second. One moment she was free and unfettered, the next he was standing at her back, one arm wrapped around her waist and the other around her neck.
"Hello, little bird," he purred, voice as glorious as a choir of angels. "You led me on such a merry chase. It's a pity I'll have to end it."
She stood stiffly, fear etched on her features. The victory that had been so briefly within her grasp had been cruelly snatched away, leaving her with nothing. "No," she whispered, though what she was protesting against, she did not know. "No!" A single tear made it's way down her dirt-smeared cheek.
"I would love to stay and chat, little chickie, but I'm afraid I don't have time," he murmured, almost apologetically. But she saw it for the lie it was. She could hear the excitement that lay beneath the false sympathy.
"No," she whispered once more, and then his teeth sunk into her neck and she was a ball of flames, burning in agony, as he drank her lifeblood, his venom traveling straight to her heart. Her screams pierced the night like bullets, cutting through the air like butter. Her vision shifted and rolled until she felt as if she were traveling down a long, dark tunnel and reality was drifting farther and farther away. Unconsciousness drew closer and closer, and she could almost reach it, could almost fall into a deep, blissful sleep.
With a start, she bolted awake in her bed. Her chest was heaving and her heart pounded erratically, irrationally. She was sitting in her bed, not lying prostrate in the woods, and she was clean and clothed, not covered in dirt and wearing rags. "It was just a nightmare," she consoled herself, and smiled a little when the comforting buzz of the nearby highway reached her ears. She climbed out of bed to pour herself a glass of water.
She did not feel the puncture wound on her neck, as though from a bite. Nor did she notice the new ring of crimson around her irises.