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He was looking for her. She knew he was.

Creeping up the stairs, Jayden did the best to keep her breathing muted. She was struggling after being chased through the woods. Her legs were sliced open and bleeding from tripping over logs and branches hidden in the dark. She was too frightened to feel the pain, but her energy was steadily running out, the adrenaline betraying her and leaving her system. If she didn’t find a place to hide soon, she was dead or possibly much, much worse.

Jayden had found what appeared to be an abandoned house as she fled through the woods. She rushed in through a broken window without thinking twice. There was no doubt in her mind that she wouldn’t find anywhere else to hide before the man, the monster, caught up with her.

The house was a wreck. Furniture was upturned, broken glass scattered all over the deteriorating floor. The house looked to have been abandoned for ages, the wood holding it together quickly eroding, making it vulnerable. A rancid odor clogged the air. Jayden didn’t want to think of the source, too afraid that other victims met their end here.

Frantically, she looked for a place to hide. Her search led her to a rickety staircase. She was likely to fall through them, but Jayden reasoned that falling to die in the basement was a happier fate than that ugly beast getting his hands on her. Not particularly looking to die, either way, she climbed carefully, finally gaining some control over her breathing.

Once at the top of the stairs, she stared down the deteriorating hallway, the relief she had felt from making it up the stairs rapidly fleeting. She could see into all of the rooms. Large holes pocked every wall like wide open windows.

Jayden swore under her breath. Hiding had become a much harder task.

Still debating what to do, she heard something stomping through the leaves outside. Jayden scrambled to find a place to hide. In the last room, she found a small spot behind a rotting bookshelf, just big enough for her to wedge herself into.

A loud thud came from downstairs. The monster had entered the house. She was done for. A cacophony of noises rose through the floor. The man was throwing things around, looking for her. Glass shattered. The house shook as he threw furniture across rooms.

Jayden feared there was a chance that the weak frame of the house would give out from all the commotion. She was trembling, imagining what he would do when he found her. She would never be able to fight him: he was much stronger. She was like a trapped mouse. She prayed he wouldn’t check upstairs; and, if he tried, he would tumble down to the basement like she had feared she would.

Moments later, she heard his heavy footsteps ascending the stairs. Terrified, she closed her eyes so tightly it caused bright spots to swim around her blackened vision.

“I know you’re here!” he bellowed from the top of the stairs. “You’re trapped now, little fox.” His voice was deep and dark. She had never heard such a menacing sound in her life.

He didn’t wait long for her to come out of hiding before he started throwing whatever he could reach. It was clear now what had created all the holes in the walls. She had fallen right into his trap.

Jayden didn’t understand how she had even gotten here. She was in town with a group of friends. It was Alley’s birthday so they had gone out for celebratory drinks. Jayden may have gotten too carried away. She remembered that the other girls had cut her off, insisting that she drink water for a while. A stranger had bought her a drink, though. Happy for the forbidden alcohol, she drank it down, no questions asked. That’s the last thing she remembered until she woke up in the woods, propped up against a tree trunk.

Jayden was confused, still a little intoxicated. She didn’t recognize where she was and couldn’t recall how she got there. As she tried to piece together her foggy memory, her attacker was walking the perimeter of his little camp, searching for the right tool. Jayden heard a twig snap, her head quickly followed the noise. She could see the outline of a tall man. Behind him, he was dragging what looked like an axe. She was automatically filled with fear. Nothing good could come from waking up in the woods with a large man circling you with an axe.

Quietly, as to not draw his attention, she climbed to her feet. She backed around the tree and sprinted. She picked the wrong direction, however, coming face to face with her abductor. His scarred and mangled face made her scream.

Before his massive hand could seize her, she took off in the opposite direction.

A table slammed through the wall beside her, pulling her back into the present.

“Where are you?” the man yelled again.

Jayden listened as he stomped out of the room, her vision blocked by the bookcase. She glanced at the new hole adorning the wall beside her. Below sat the roof of the back porch, covered in old, rotting leaves. Given the right amount of time, Jayden thought, she might be able to fit through that hole and land on the roof. The drop didn’t seem that far down.

Keeping herself mostly hidden behind the bookshelf, she peeked to find out where the man was. The sound of his heavy steps sounded like he was in a room across the hall, but she wanted to be sure he couldn’t see her. No movement was visible through the holes in the walls.

Deciding that it was her only chance, Jayden threw herself out the newest hole in the wall. She landed with a loud thud on the roof, one foot pushing through the rotten wood. Once she had pulled her foot free, she heard the man upstairs. He yelled out the hole at her. She didn’t wait to figure out what he was saying. Instead, she climbed down from the roof and ran.

She hadn’t made it far before she heard a loud crashing from the house. She paused momentarily to look. With any luck, the sound had come from that terrible monster falling through the stairs. If it wasn’t, she wasn’t going to stick around to find out.

Jayden ran until she couldn’t any longer. Leaning against a tree, she tried to steady her breathing. Her mind wandered to her friends. She hoped he had only kidnapped her, leaving her friends safe. Worrying about her was much better than what was happening to her.

Afraid that the man was close by, she did not give herself long to rest. She strained her ears, listening for any sign of movement. The wind rustling the fallen leaves was more than enough to make her jump and run faster. Her footsteps were frantic and sloppy. Tripping and falling, she kept going. Cuts and scrapes lined every visible inch of her skin.

Hours later, she emerged from the woods. Her journey had been full of paranoia, always looking over her shoulder, expecting the man to be right behind her. She was relieved when she found a road she actually knew, though her fear didn’t subside until she made it home. Her friends were safe. Only she had been taken. Her friends had gone to the police, but they couldn’t do anything yet. She had only been gone for the one night.

The girls did convince Jayden to go to the police, to lead them to where she believed the man was or at least give them an idea of where to look. She wanted to be strong enough to lead them directly to the house, to show the world and herself that she was a survivor. Instead of living in paranoid fear, she wanted her life back. Jayden made it to the edge of the woods, retracing her footsteps as best as she could remember. She didn’t make it more than a mile into the woods before it all became too much. The paranoia took hold of her and wouldn’t let go, even though she was surrounded by people that would protect her. Too fearful to continue, she told the police where to go and asked to be escorted back to her home.

They found the man in the basement of the abandoned house. The stairs had given out as he stormed down them to continue chasing her. His body wasn’t the only one they discovered. The basement was full of unmarked graves, many containing more than one body.

The man, James Ather, as she was informed, had been teased and bullied all his life due to the hideous disfigurement of his face. According to people that knew Ather before he took to the woods, he had always blamed his mother for his unfortunate condition. This lead to his hatred of women, specifically those who resembled his mother.

His condition wasn’t his mother’s fault. James had been born with a genetic disorder, Apert syndrome. There was nothing that could be done to prevent the disorder or fix it once he was born. His face and skull were misshapen.

As a child, his peers teased him relentlessly. Children can be very cruel when they don’t understand something, when someone is different. Ather did not handle it well. Instead, he tried to remove his own face, thinking it would grow back normal. Unfortunately, it only left his face mangled and scarred. The other children teased him more or hid from him completely, shaping him into a complete monster.

Once he had finished school, James moved into the woods surrounding the city. He stayed in a tent during the warmer seasons, choosing to take shelter in the abandoned houses during the colder months.

He did not visit the city very often, but when he did, he looked for his next victim. They were so well spaced that no one had pieced together all the disappearances, leaving Ather to his disturbing revenge.

Jayden was the only one that ever escaped and was brave enough to go to the police. She wasn’t unscarred, however. Constantly, she looked over her shoulder. She felt eyes watching her like he was waiting for the right moment to attack her again. She was plagued by nightmares. Jayden may have escaped Ather, but he had still broken her. He had still won.

When the same type of girls started disappearing from the city again, the fear consumed her. He was looking for her. She knew he was. 

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