The woods behind Mary Jane’s house did not make her feel safe. They were thick with old, twisted trees, whose branches scratched her like boney fingers. The crescent moon overhead did not provide much light for her to see, so as she ran, she couldn’t avoid the harsh brush or the sharp rocks jutting from the ground. Her bare feet caught on something, maybe a root or a stone, sending her tumbling to the ground.
She lay there on the cold grass for a moment, too scared and weak to pull herself up. Sweat made the cuts from the branches and thorns sting, adding to the pain from old and new bruises on her body. Taking a deep breath, she pushed her head up and took a look around. Her eyes strained to see in the dense fog, but she appeared to be in a clearing. Pain shot up her arms and back as she got up to her feet and brushed the dirt off her thin cotton dress.
What sounded like a bird cried out as it leapt from one branch to another. Mary Jane jumped at the sound, turning about on her heels and praying for something to see. If she could just find a squirrel or an owl, something to indicate the forest’s innocence, maybe her heart would stop pounding.
There was nothing. She sighed, wiping the sweat from her brow and the tears from her cheeks. The woods were not safe, but the eerie emptiness was infinitely better than baring the blunt of her father’s drunken wrath back home. She could stay here for a while, wait until he would surely be asleep, then make her way back to the house.
Leaves rustled in the wind, sending shivers up her spine. She swallowed and licked her lips, quietly telling herself that she was alone. Mary Jane repeated it in her mind like a mantra. I am alone. I am alone. I am--
A glint of light flashed beyond the trees and more leaves rustled. Twigs snapped. Anxiety creeped into Mary Jane’s chest, feeling almost as if her heart shriveled like a raisin. She shivered, and folded her arms closely to her chest for warms. That yellow glimmer appeared again; two dots somewhere in the distance. Mary Jane forced herself to look down at her feet and continued her mantra.
I am alone. I am alone. She closed her eyes and rocked back and forth on her heels to the rhythm of the words in her head. I am alone. I am alone. She ignored the sounds of twigs and leaves, even as they grew louder. I am alone.
A pant of warm, humid breath fell on her forehead.
Mary Jane ran for it, bolting back in the direction of her isolated mountain house. Anxious, terrified nausea filled her stomach, contorting her insides as she ran. Tears in her eyes obscured her sight even further. Darkness seemed like it could envelop her completely. She couldn’t escape. She wasn’t alone. She wasn’t going to make it. She—Mary Jane stopped under the light of her back porch. She could hear nothing but static from the old TV inside, along with her father’s faint snores. With a sigh of relief, she climbed up the porch stairs to the screen door. The steps creaked under her feet. Resting her head against the screen door, she wondered where she would go now that the woods were no longer the lesser of two evils.
Taking a deep breath, she pulled the door open and stepped inside. As she quietly closed the door to not wake her father, Mary Jane saw those yellow eyes in the darkness, just beyond the trees. She froze, the hair on her neck standing on end. In the next room, her father coughed and grumbled in his sleep. She flinched at the sound, instinctively closing her eyes and holding up her hands in defense.
When no blow came, she relaxed just enough to look into the darkness once more. Whatever was out there was still staring at her, perhaps even into her. Her heart pounding, Mary Jane took a step away from the door. Her hand lingered on the latch for a moment, but she pulled away, leaving it hanging.
If there was nowhere to go, then it could come to her.