The distant rumble of thunder swept over the gently swaying treetops of the old pines as Emma slowed for a moment to rest her chilled and aching feet. The muddy road beneath her slowly gave way to her rain-soaked leather boots, and she frantically scanned the road ahead in hopes of finding some sign of her mark. The thunder gradually faded and suddenly she was left with the sound of her own rapid breath piercing through the cold, wet air. There was no other sound, no other movement; just the trees swishing back and forth to the soft, whispering commands of the wind.
“Where did he go?” she muttered to herself as she grabbed a pair of thin, tattered gloves from her bag and quickly slipped them on over her cold, clammy fingers; her pale, milky skin was beginning to take a worrying shade of purple. The night air had been largely unforgiving.
Nothing had gone right since she left her room at the inn behind. The rain hadn’t let up a single bit; in fact, the rain had been more relentless since her departure a few hours prior. The icy wind had been blowing a constant assault against her, almost as if trying to keep her from her target. The very road itself seemed as if it wanted to hold her back, her boots being sucked into the slop with each and every step she took. Yet, she had somehow managed to keep pace and follow the dwindling light ahead of her without a single thought of hesitation. That was, until just now. Now all that existed was her, the trees, the road, and darkness. Even the rain, which had been so persistent before, had drawn to a light drizzle and then given up entirely.
She crouched closer to the ground and examined the stretch of road in front of her, carefully studying the mud in hopes of finding some clue as to where the man she had been following had gone. Pools of water had collected on indents across the road but the sheer force of the rain would make it impossible to tell whether or not these imperfections were from tracks made by a traveler, or the wear and tear of a road largely unkempt by the locals. Even if she could tell the difference, there was no way of knowing if the tracks were recent. She sighed heavily and started to stand up, despite the cracking protests of her stiff and tired joints. There was only one way to go. “Forward!” she whispered.
The wind had died down almost entirely now and the trees had become eerily still as she continued her path down the grimy road. A thin mist slowly started to hang over the ground and it began lazily weaving its way through the trees that surrounded the dilapidated stretch in front of her. She found the silence unsettling.
The sharp, distant sound of a twig breaking off to the left had her stop dead in her tracks. She listened. Nothing. Once again, the only sound she heard was the slow, steady rhythm of her breath. In. Out. Over and over. But nothing else. She waited, but the woods around her held its silence. Her heartbeat quickened. She felt as if she was being watched. No… she was certain of it. She needed to move but found herself frozen in place, worried that any movement she made would give her up to her invisible stalker. The mist had grown thicker and was swirling around her waist; the cold, damp air continued to cut through her already wet clothing with ease. Despite her discomfort, she slowly crouched back down to the road hoping the ever-growing fog would be her ally and mask her from whatever, or whoever was lurking in the shadows of the ancient trees around her. She finally got her legs to move, shifting slowly to the right side of the road as the air continued hiding its secrets from her. After a short time, Emma managed to make her way to the edge of the road, the giant gnarled trees towering above her groaned in the still air. She stopped, still crouching close to the soggy ground, and trained her ears in the direction from which she had heard the noise just moments before. Once again, there wasn’t a sound to be heard; there were no birds, no crickets, no wind. Nothing. She shivered in the unnatural silence of her surroundings.
“Stupid!” she thought to herself. “Unbelievably stupid! You’re letting your imagination get the better of you, foolish girl!” She should have known better. Her mouth twisted sharply as she let out a deep sigh. Emma reached up, lowered the hood of her sopping wet cloak, and then ran her gloved fingers through her wet, curly, silver red hair before tying it back into a ponytail. “
That ‘s when she heard it. At first, she couldn’t quite make it out, but as the noise grew louder and louder, she thought it sounded like a soft hiss. Emma, still stuck in place on the side of the road, tried to see where the noise was coming from. Originally, it seemed as if it was coming from the woods on the other side of the road, but, as the sound became more intense, the hissing seemed to emanate from everywhere around her. She quickly found herself surrounded by the eerie, mysterious whispering. “What is that?” she thought to herself. “The wind must be picking up again.”
Suddenly a thin, cold hand came from behind and quickly covered her mouth. She tried to scream, but the hand remained firmly in place as the second arm of her assailant wrapped around her waist and lifted her from the ground. She tried to struggle free, screaming again with little success, but the grip on her was firm and unshakeable. Unable to keep up the fight and physically exhausted from the night, Emma reluctantly watched as the road slowly disappeared and she found herself dragged deeper into the woods as the hissing noise grew louder and louder.
To be continued…