Step, step, breathe, breathe, step, step, breathe, breathe. My shoes kept a steady rhythm with my burning lungs. I veered off my regular path, opting to hear the crunch of the leaves beneath my feet. The image of my mom’s disapproving face was ignored as I leapt across a gurgling brook. Breathe, breathe, crunch, crunch.

If I wasn’t mountain biking, I was running. I craved speed and freedom. I had to escape the oppressive perfection of living in the Campbell home. Thinking of my two older sisters, one model and the other a star volleyball player, my legs lunged, lengthening their stride. Not good at team sports and terrified by cameras, I knew my family felt my height was wasted on me.

Even Jeremy gives me a hard time.

A stitch pinched my side. Breathe, breathe. I knew I was going too fast, not pacing myself right. Something was urging me on, pushing me to scale the hill before me, and plunge deeper into the woods.I refocused on my rhythm, my inhales and exhales, and my body realigned itself, goose bumps shooting across my arms. There it is. I’d hit my second wind and I surged on, not caring where my feet led.

It’s freedom! Complete and—

There was a rush of air, a whistling in my ear, and a sting to the back of my arm. Instantly, I tumbled to the ground, sliding into the damp morning dew. Cold dirt filled my nostrils as blackness enveloped me.

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I heard my own labored breathing long before I realized I was somewhere in between awake and asleep. Forcing my eyes open, I gasped. My senses took everything in at once—the smell of wood shavings, the scratchy ropes on my wrists and ankles, and the pressure of the mattress beneath my body. I screamed, but the empty room with wooden floors and stacked logs for walls was empty. No one burst through the door in the corner.

Realizing it was useless and only making my throat raw, I fell silent. Panic flooded me. How did I get here? I pressed my thoughts to retrace my steps, but my mind felt sluggish. My last memory was running in the woods just before sunrise. I could still feel the burn from the autumn air hitting my lungs. Now the solitary window painted a yellow rectangle on the floor. The room felt stuffy. It’s probably late afternoon. But is it the same day?

The minutes rolled slowly into hours, the silence suffocating. What had my therapist said to do when I was scared? Breathe deeply and don’t panic. It was too late for that; all the years of therapy after my childhood accident were rendered useless. I’m drowning all over again. Only this time, it wasn’t water filling my lungs but pure fear and terror pressing down on my chest. I gulped in dry air, my eyes burning with tears.

No one’s coming to save me. A sob escaped me as the real horror of the situation washed over me. I’m tied up. Someone knows I’m here. What would happen when they came back?As the last rays of light were snuffed out by the shadows of the night, that someone came through the wooden door.

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“Just tell me—what do you want?” I asked, knowing it was pointless. In the three weeks—or had it been longer?—of my imprisonment, I had yet to get an answer. He never spoke.

I blinked, trying to clear the blurry blob that occasionally floated across my right eye. Never having glasses before, I was annoyed by my hazy vision. I blinked again, my eyes refocusing on the figure pacing the room. What had started as a dull headache was now a hammer drumming at the back of my eye sockets. I need water. My stomach grumbled with nauseating hunger.

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