Not sure where else to go, I turned toward the bridge. The trees once serene, now looked threatening, reaching out to grab me. I ran past them as they closed around the entrance. I prayed they would provide enough cover. I hadn’t seen the figure after the bend, but I could feel it, stalking me.
I crouched, folding myself into the smallest possible ball in the deepest shadow I could find. I squeezed both hands over my mouth, but that could not stop my heaving chest. I closed my eyes as if that would make me invisible to the stranger, too.
Thump. Thump. Thump.
I inhaled deeply. I was filled with the smell of wet leaves.
Thump. Thump. Thump.
Another deep breath. Now, it smelled thickly of burning leaves.
Against my conscious will, my eyes opened and drifted up.
There was no face looking down at me, only a dark smoky haze. Somewhere in the distance a dog barked. The smoke formed something resembling a hand that came toward me. I could not move. My mouth opened to scream, but instead the smoke came pouring down my throat, burning.
I was sputtering…choking…suffocating…dying.
Until something hit me, pinning me against the cold metal railing of the bridge’s western side. The bar cut deep into my back. I forced my eyes to open, trying to blink away the black spots.
It was a dog. And it was attacking the hazy figure.
Its sleek orange coat stood out except for one deep brown stripe cutting down its left side. It raised its front paws to attack, but began to sink through the figure’s semipermeable skin.
I finally screamed as the dog’s claws caught my flesh.
What I first assumed to be vertigo sank in quickly when I found myself looking up at the bar whose imprint I could feel taking shape in black and blue. I didn’t feel the wind on my face, or the ground when I hit it.
It hurt. I felt it.
I laid there, waiting for the numbness to wear off. It didn’t. Instead, it seeped deeper and deeper into every fiber of my being. Once devoid of all sensation, I got up and splashed through the little stream that remained of the creek. Once at the ravine wall, I raised my hand to begin climbing and followed the hazy particles as they drifted through the air in a vague shape that was once my hand. Reaching for a nearby branch to pull myself up, my hand slid through the solid wood.