Mellow streaks beam between branches. Light dances on the breeze and leaves rustle softly. Lying in the grass we look up at the clear sky and feel the warmth on the sun on our faces. The scent of dew on drying grass mingles with cherry blossom. Pink petals flutter down on us like confetti. We rest by the edge of the forest as the sun sets and decide to stay for the night.
Blue light casts eerie shadows. Trees stand like soldiers, silhouetted against the evening sky. The sun has gone and cold air swirls around us as we make camp. The blossom continues to drip down like thawing snowflakes. Somewhere deeper into the forest something howls. Heavy branches groan in the wind. We light a small fire to keep warm.
Flames crackle and flicker bright against the black forest. The darkness beyond is so complete we can see nothing but each other. Every creek and crunch nearby hastens our heartbeats. A bat screeches as it soars above. It swoops so close we can see its sharp teeth. Another appears and another, diving and circling as though we are prey. Something behind us growls and then they are gone.
Loud breathing close to our heads. We flinch and huddle together, breaths held, hearts in our mouths, and wait.
A loud crack.
I am awake and sitting upright. I reach out but no one is there. I can see nothing, blinded by the night. I sit and wait, unsure what woke me. For a moment everything is silent and still, too still, not even the trees are moving.
A low deep growl a few feet away. I summon the courage to speak. I whisper, “Where are you?” but no one replies.
A howl echoes around the trees and pounds at my ears. I draw my legs up to my chest and hug them close. Bracken cracks. “Is that you?” I say with more hope than I feel. I reach out my arms but there is nothing before me. “This isn't funny,” I say, trying to sound as though I don't care. Heavy breathing so close I can feel damp heat prickle my skin. I sit, paralyzed, next to the burned-out fire. A rumble. A scream. Tears stream from my eyes and I realise the scream is mine. “Where are you?” I call desperately now. My legs are numb and my throat so tight I choke on the words. I pat around me but the is nothing but our empty coats on the ground. One is dry, the other sticky, wet and scented with iron. I make out a pile of rags nearby, ripped to shreds and dark with blood. Thundering footsteps rushing closer. Hot fur and large body hurtle towards me. I lurch out of the way and it hits a tree. Teeth clatter in a mass of snarls and growls. I scramble but my legs are like jelly. I tumble into the damp leaves and petal bed and try to cover myself in the forest floor. Eyes tight shut, breath clamped in my throat with my heart. Gurgling and grunting. A pant and a hiss. A pain at my throat…
(C) 2017 Liah S Thorley, all rights reserved