Searing lungs. Every step causes a wince as a bolt of pain runs from my ankle to my knee. How far have I run? Through the pain, I'm no longer sweating. My skin feels inflamed. My teeth hurt from clenching. The only part of my body that doesn't ache is the bleeding gash across my back.

This is bad. I pray I'm not being chased. All I hear is my own desperate panting; the inconsistent pounding of rubber soles on pavement. My only focus is the next ten feet ahead of me. The rough, black texture passes underfoot with occasional flashes of yellow light from flickering street lamps.

Stupid. A sting across my back with a shift in the wind. Cool air runs across the wound. My breath catches. My eyes warm over with tears, blurring my already tunneled-vision. A guttural cry of exhausted desperation shakes from my throat. The sound disappears before it hits my ears, lost in the pitch perfect night.

Why? It was the blinding pain that sent me running. The deafening roar in the moon-cast shadows of the woods paralyzed me, surrounding me in noise. The whooshing sound of motion and tearing of my flesh followed too quickly to react with anything other than running.

Julia… Her wails trailed me through the brambles. Fear motivated me away from her pleas as they echoed against the trees, drowning out the trampling of brush. By the time I reached the road, her cries had died behind me.

Why did we go in there? Stupidity. Arrogance. Stubbornness. Fear. The idea was clever and fun before. Test the legend. Scare one another. Get high on nerves.

Can't breathe. On weak and trembling legs I slow, knowing I shouldn't. My heart pounds inside my chest like a mallet on a timpani. Running is impossible now. I keep moving forward. Cotton fills my mouth and down my throat. I wheeze, the sound piercing the night, and squeeze my eyes tightly.

Just go. I can't. The shooting burn and sweet rot of bile fill my mouth. I lurch over, the acid coating my lips as it pours out onto the ground. Warm tears run down my cheeks, dripping off and disappearing into darkness before landing at my feet. My palms weigh like lead against my knees. I'm shaking.

Oh, God. The warmth of blood covers my back. Coughing. Spitting. A wail. Terror keeps me from reaching back to feel the damage to my back. A calm gust of wind mockingly teases the exposed injury, making me shiver while the torn veins burn.

Move. My legs are numb as I force myself upright. Step. My knee buckles and meets the pavement, replacing the sensation of nothing in my body with sharp agony. It makes my hair scream as I double over. My knuckles and forehead press into the horrible roughness of the path. My whimper is all I hear. Pain and tears are all I feel.

No. Cold points of pressure press lightly against my calf. Press. Release. Press. Release. They crawl up my leg. I'm too out of breath to scream. I futilely push against the ground. The sensations on my leg dig in. They wrap around my leg, pulling me back, as another set appears at my waist.

Hands. The spindly fingers and iced palms prevent my exhausted body from pulling away. A third appears on my wrist, a fourth on my hip. Another. I squeeze my eyes shut, allowing plaintive murmurs of horror and helplessness to leak from my throat.

Julia.

Oh, God.

God.

Nails like needles brush against the bloody gash on my back. I shake and gasp. My only salvation is clenched eyes. Darkness instead of reality. The hands twist and press down all at once. I can't move. I feel the fingers digging, pressing, ripping into me through the wound before nothing.