Joss tears through the bramble and bracken, ignoring the prickling thorns and nettle stings plaguing her bare legs and feet. The stony walls of the gorge bear down on her, intimidating, threatening, her only escape route carved out between them. She could attempt to scale them, but her time is too short. Her chocolate hair is plastered to her forehead with sweat, legs screaming, throat burning. She pauses a second to gulp down air for her parched lungs, leaning on the cliff beside her, leaving a sanguine handprint on the rockface. But then she hears the faint clamour behind her, the collective rage of The Cult swelling to a distant roar. She forces her aching limbs and bloodied feet to keep running.
Before long, Joss becomes aware of another sound, the sound of running water. The valley widens, revealing a small, fast-flowing river on her left. She races against it, trying to outpace the current, pushing her body onwards. She tries not to dwell on the chaos left in her wake, the crimson stains on her skin. As the river grows, Joss sees a sharp drop before her; undaunted, she flings herself from the waterfall’s edge, crashing into the plunge pool below. For a moment she struggles against the fierce undercurrent before allowing it to sweep her downstream. Eventually, her head bursts through the water, spluttering, gasping, choking. She is dizzy, starved of oxygen, her surroundings a blur. But she lets the river carry her, dragging her ever further from her pursuers.
A couple of minutes later, the rushing waters begin to ease, allowing Joss to take stock of the scenery. All around her is dense woodland, lined by mossy banks. Dredging up some energy, she swims ashore, heaving herself onto the slimy rocks and collapsing onto her back, panting and staring wide-eyed at the periwinkle-blue sky. A group of startled jackdaws flit from the trees with a loud cry. Joss longs for their wings, their flight, their freedom. But she daren’t dally to dream; she clambers to her sore feet, and hurries into the labyrinthine forest, searching for an exit.
Everywhere she looks the view is the same; tall, towering, tightly-packed trees casting gloomy shadows over the undergrowth. Birds cawing, bushes rustling. Despite the weight of her waterlogged uniform, Joss never slows beyond a jog, heading in as straight a line as she can manage. What feels like hours later, the woods begin to thin and sunlight glitters through the canopy, painting dappled puddles on the ground. And then, to Joss’ overwhelming relief, the end of a pebbled track emerges before her. There is a sign here, crudely carved in a piece of bark ripped from the nearest tree. “STOP!!!” it reads. She has been here before. It is somehow familiar, a hazy memory dragged from the deepest pits of her intoxicated brain. If only she had heeded the warning back then. She wonders where its creator is now. Whether they are home, alive… whether they are dead. All she knows for sure is that this path will lead her to her real family, to safety, to a life she can barely remember. Towards freedom.
She doesn’t hear the quiet, mechanical whirring and clicking in the trees nearby. She doesn’t notice the camouflaged lens watching her every movement.
She doesn’t see them.
But they see her.
Emma H, age 26, 08/08/2017
Written for Sue Vincent’s Watchers #writephoto challenge! To read other entries you can click on the link here:
I struggled when I first saw the photo but I’m happy with my eventual story. I decided to try something different than fantasy for once – I hope you enjoy 🙂