The sounds of the forest slowly blossomed in her ears. Crickets chirped. Frogs croaked. The wind ruffled the newly uncovered Spring leaves, sending them skittering over the ground. Flies buzzed. A faint scent of copper, musk, and fur hung in the chilly air.
She bowed her head forward, feebly lifting her hand to meet it, and gasped as pain arced through her body. She held her breath until the pain eased, squeezing her eyes closed, and ran shaking fingers through her hair. It was only when she felt the sticky wetness that she noticed the tang of blood on her tongue.
“What happened?” she croaked. She forced her eyelids–suddenly heavy and unresponsive–open, managing only the barest of gaps through which she could examine her hand, and saw…
Her eyes flew open. “No. No,” she babbled. “It wasn’t even dusk. It couldn’t be… I was almost home!” As she became more awake, memories flooded through her. In a flash, she recalled her hasty, last-minute trip to the store and her relief that she would be home before… She ground her teeth together, unwilling to even think the word. Then she remembered the streak of tan from the right, the jarring thunk, and her own scream before she could recall no more.
She swallowed, the blood in her mouth mingling with bile as it entered her stomach, and opened her eyes wider. Shapes swam into view, misshapen and ominous, pressing in close to her. She clamped her eyes shut again. “Breathe, Lorene,” she reminded herself. “Just like Dr. Saunders showed you.” She tried to ignore the sharp ache in her chest, the thick pounding in her head, the terrifying absence of any sensation at all below her waist, and inhaled, counting steadily.
Inhale. One, two, three, four. Hold. One, two, three, four. Exhale. One, two, three, four. Hold. One, two, three, four.
The tempo of her breathing involuntarily increased as her fear heightened. She was injured, alone, and night had fallen. She could feel the darkness stealing up on her, enveloping her, squeezing. She had no doubt that if she opened her eyes again, her heart would beat its last as the darkness devoured her. She couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think. Even now, she heard the night whispering to her, caressing her skin, daring her to surrender, to let let its black tendrils constrict around her until there is nothing left.
“No,” she whispered, tears washing tracks through drying blood. “You can’t have me.”
A cold voice rose unbidden in her mind, vowing, “In the end, Darkness takes all.”