sixteen. Dead Girl Walking

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Anger and determination drove me as I started my car, waved my hand at Alexei and maneuvered Tina's tiny Honda into the empty street.

I didn't drive for long -as soon as Alexei was out of sight, I parked my car alongside the sidewalk and got out, my head buzzing with nervous anticipation and adrenaline. My body felt taut, like a bowstring pulled tight, ready to be released. Only one thought occupied my thoughts, pulsing with each of my heartbeats: "I have to do something."

Perhaps it was the knowledge that with each second A could be getting further away that made me head back towards Harvard, my cellphone clutched in a clammy hand. Alexei was gone when I arrived at the spot where I'd left him, and I felt a slight pang in my chest.

Having him here probably would've complicated matters -there was a lot of things I couldn't explain to him and a lot of thing I didn't even want to explain. And yet having someone else with me as I engaged in something definitely reckless and perhaps even dangerous would've been reassuring.

I stopped once I stood in the very spot where I'd felt my cellphone buzz with the message and carefully looked around. To my left stood the library, its windows dark, inaccessible at that hour. To my right was what could hardly qualify as woods -it was a couple of leafless trees and bushes, stretching towards the sky like emaciated, gnarled fingers -a perfect hiding spot for a determined stalker. I headed in that direction, and when I was only a few feet away I could just faintly see a light among the trees. At first it looked strange, as if something glowing was levitating a few feet in the air. I took another step closer and my brain clicked -it was a cellphone. Someone holding a cellphone stood in the spot where A had probably been standing when the message was sent. Coincidence? Very unlikely.

My heart now beating a hundred miles per hour, I inched closer as slowly and soundlessly as I could. The grass muffled all sounds of my approach and the night and my dark clothes were to my advantage. In the dimness of the woods, I was nearly invisible.

I was close enough to be able to discern a strong build beneath the black hoodie and the black jogging pants he wore and my adrenaline infused thoughts cleared enough for me to be able to realize that I probably wasn't prepared to deal with a man of his stature if things got physical. My hesitation made me forget my stealth and as I took another step, my foot landed on a dry branch. The crack that ensued was deafening and the stranger -who was now only a few feet away - looked up while simultaneously shoving the phone into the pocket of his pants. I froze, my legs turning into particularly liquid jello as I realized that I was completely at his mercy. Even if someone heard me scream, would they come to my rescue? I was completely unarmed -I'd even left my can of pepper spray in Tina's car -and my meager self defense skills were rusty at best.

He stood motionless for a moment and I barely dared to breathe as I imagined all the different scenarios that could ensue. He could have a gun, and I wasn't sure if I could handle being held at gunpoint for a second time in such a short period of time. Or he could have a knife and while the self defense lesson my dad made me attend had briefly covered how to handle such a situation, I wasn't overly confident in my ability to handle someone his size.

No matter how I looked at it, the conclusion remained the same -if he wanted me dead, my corpse would probably end up in a ditch somewhere in about twenty minutes.

Before the full effect of that realization could register in my brain, the stranger broke into a sprint.

I didn't give myself the time to think, because if I had, I'd run back to Tina's car, tail between my legs. Instead, I bolted after him, crashing through the thicket of bushes and trees, ice tipped branches snagging at my clothes and hair. It wasn't long before we were both in the open, but while he maintained his rhythm without showing any sign of fatigue, I acutely felt the burn in my legs and the side stitch in my abdomen.

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