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The Last Shortcut

Into the woods.

The sky above my head is grey but getting darker as the seconds fly past, the first few raindrops starting to fall hit the ground. I yank up the hood of my jacket, tucking my auburn, wavy hair behind my ears. I am not exactly dressed for a storm. Having just finished work I am dressed in black skinny jeans, black pumps, and a zip up jacket covering the hideous blue polo shirt my job at the supermarket requires me to wear. 

I pull my phone out of my jeans pocket to check the time but the battery has run out and I set a mental note to get it fixed this weekend. The battery never lasts more than a couple of hours on the stupid thing now. The light is falling quickly so I assume it is past six o'clock and decide that a shortcut through the woods would be better than the 20 minute walk in the rain that I was about to do. 

I hop over the fence that leads to the path with ease, entering the growing darker woods. It takes me ten minutes to walk through the woods usually, I have taken this shortcut so many times I am sure I could do it with my eyes closed. Never have I walked through it in the dark though. My mother's warning is ringing in my ears, "Never walk through the woods in the dark Bobbi, its like a maze in there." I used to laugh it off when she would warn me and tell her to relax. 

The rain starts to fall more aggressively now, drenching anything it comes into contact with, the sky roars with thunder and I duck for the shelter of the trees. The ground is soft and wet beneath my pumps and I shake my head at the ridiculousness of it all. I trudge through the soggy leaves and try and avoid the muddy puddles along the path unsuccessfully. The rain is pouring through the canopy of leaves, drenching my hood and shoulders. I shudder and tuck my hands into my jacket pocket and duck my head, determined to make it to the end of the woods and home to a lovely warm house and a nicely cooked meal my mum would have surely prepared, just like always. 

I knew certainly that I would not make it out of the woods before all of the light disappeared. Visibility was already poor and I was squinting ahead at the muddy trail, trying to remember where the tangled, slippery roots cross the path. 

I'm walking quickly, each step a little faster than the one before. I lose my footing a few times, the trail is becoming slippery with the wet leaves and the mud being drenched in rain is squelching under every step. I tread on a tree root and before I can catch my balance, I slip and fall hands first into the mud. My ankle twists in the process and I let out a small yelp as the pain shoots up through my leg and my knee makes contact with the tree. 

I stay in that position for a few minutes, immobilised by pain. The rain is beating down hard, drenching every part of me and I know that I have to move. I blink through the pain and take a deep breath, when I look up it has gone completely dark. I attempt to raise to my feet but something has hold of my ankle, I pull thinking perhaps my foot has become tangled in the tree roots, something pulls back, yanking my legs from underneath me and before I can comprehend what is happening I am being dragged on my stomach away from the trail. 

The mud splashed up into my face, drops landing in my eyes and my mouth. I scream and kick my free leg, trying to make contact with whatever it is that has me. My mind is blank, all I can think is that I'm going to die if I don't get away from this person or thing. I keep kicking until I make contact with something and it grunts, not a human grunt, it sounded like an animal. Deep and unearthly. I take the opportunity to kick again in the same spot and twist, thrashing my arms until I feel release. The thing is screeching now, it's deafening and it's all I can do not to raise my hands to my ears. I must have harmed it in some way but I don't care. 

I'm on my feet and running in what I think to be the direction of the trail. All I care about is putting as much distance between myself and that creature. My heart is pounding against my chest and I'm struggling to catch my breath, the taste of the mud and rain in my mouth is almost enough for me to double over but the sound of the creature running behind me spurs me on. I use the trees to propel me forwards, grazing my hands against the rough bark. Every step is excruciatingly painful, my ankle barely being able to support my weight and my knee throbbing with every stride. 

My ears are strained, listening for the creature, how close is it? The blood is pounding in my ears, sweat mixing with the rain on my face, the sound of my breath, leaving me in bursts as my lungs struggle. I swing around a tree and place my back against it in a desperate moment to catch my breath. My whole body is trembling with the fear of death or worse. I attempt to control the shaking. Holding my breath and trying to keep my body entirely still so that the creature won’t hear me. 

I can hear the footsteps slowing down and know that it is close. I squeeze my eyes shut, inhaling and exhaling as quietly as possible. I rest my head against the bark of the tree and feel the rain hitting my face. The footsteps have completely stopped now and I can’t hear anything other than the creaking of tree trunks, the rain hitting the ground and the rustle of branches. I open my eyes and it takes a moment for them to readjust, I can just make out the outlines of trees ahead. I count to three and decide that I’ll make a run for it. The only way out of here is if I move. If I stand still for too long, then that creature will find me. I flex my leg and feel the pain in my knee. It’s manageable but it’s my ankle I’m worried about. 

I use the fear of dying to propel me forwards with as much speed as my ankle and knee will allow but it’s not enough. Almost in an instant, I hear a roar and the creature is right behind me. I can feel its breath spurring from its mouth, hot and angry. I scream, unable to compress it. Fear taking over any sense that I have left. The ground is unforgiving, each step harder than the one I took before. 

I’m not sure how long I can keep running. Unsure how long I can withstand the pain. I don’t even know where I’m going. I don’t know how I will make it out of the woods. I’m sobbing now. Tears streaming down my face, because of the pain, the terror, the frustration. I'm barely able to breathe. My lungs are a ball of agonising fire threatening to burst through my chest. 

I collapse to the ground unable to move anymore, shaking uncontrollably as I let the sobs of desperation escape me. I let my hands sink into the mud. I let the darkness fall around me. The creature is on top of me now. Hot searing pain rips through me and I scream but I don’t fight. I let the claws rip me apart. 

I gave up.

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