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THE DARK woods were far from still. A strong wind made the tops of the trees bow. A low howl accompanied the wind as it forced its way around the branches and through the leaves. Orange and yellow corpses fluttered from the trees to the ground, never to be buried, merely trampled upon.

Muffled by the call of the wind, Dale Garrison crunched upon the newly fallen leaves as he ran through the forest. He stumbled to a tree and leaned against it, listening, watching.

Out of breath, he looked back over his shoulder. He'd gotten this far without them picking up his trail. But he couldn't rest long. The dogs would soon pick up his scent and they'd be on his tail again.

The horrid cost of freedom these days, Dale thought, running his left hand across his sweaty brow. He couldn't run like this all night. He'd have to find a ride or something, get out of his Sunnyside Institution uniform and flee the state before word of his escape got out.

It had been twenty minutes since he'd been free. No doubt the local stations had broadcast his escape by now. He had to be very careful. He was an easily identifiable suspect.

The wind howled louder, and he thought that he could pick out the sounds of barking in the distance.

Still out of breath, Dale stumbled forward and broke into a lurching run. A sharp pain stabbed through his side and he tried to ignore it. The tempting smell of freedom, like a carrot held before a starving horse, guided him onward.

Just when he thought he could bear the pain no longer, Dale staggered to a clearing. And before him he found exactly what he needed.

A pale grey Chevrolet was parked in the clearing on a hill overlooking a spectacular view of the town below. Dale could detect two figures inside the car through the steamy windows.

He slowly approached the car, crouching and trying to keep his breathing quiet. He hadn't yet figured out how he would overpower the people inside, as tired as he was, but he knew that he didn't have much time.

Nearing the driver's door, he remained low and peered in through the window. A glance at them would tell him if they would be much of a threat to his freedom.

Things hadn't changed much, Dale thought as he regarded a couple of teenagers making out. The male, thin and short, had his face pressed up against a blond haired female's face. Her hands danced up and down his back to the sound of a pop song on the radio. The male's hands deftly worked at unbuttoning the female's blouse.

The car had been idling. Dale could see the keys in the ignition.

Conflicting thoughts ran through Dale's mind. He wanted to continue watching. The sudden excitement of adolescent sex brought him memories of his own youth. It had been almost a decade since he saw real live breasts. But he needed to get the teens out of the car so that he could escape.

As Dale watched, feeling a stirring in his groin, he calculated his next move. Just as the boy had the girl's blouse open and cupped her breasts between his hands, the muffled voice of the radio announcer interrupted the song.

Dale moved to the back of the car, his plan already formed. All that he had to do was open the passenger door, pull the girl from the car and threaten to kill her if the boy didn't get out. He could then slip into the car and speed away.

From the woods came the distinct sound of barking.

They were getting closer.

Dale moved quickly around the back of the car, and in his haste tripped over something. He landed on his left hand and it twisted beneath him. He let out a yelp.

From within the car, the girl screamed.

Shit, Dale thought, cradling his left arm to his chest. The barking dogs were louder as they echoed in through the trees. As Dale slid forward on his left side, he could hear the boy and girl arguing within the car.

By the time he reached the passenger door, the arguing seemed to be over. As Dale reached forward and grasped the door handle with his right hand, the car started moving.

Searing pain shot through Dale's right arm as the car peeled away. He cradled the bloody stump at the end of his right arm to his chest and watched the car peel away down the dirt road, heading back to town.

Goddamn cheap doctors at the institution, Dale thought, listening as the barking dogs neared the edge of the clearing. They had the technology to provide him with a workable plastic right hand after the accident at the prison shop. But he was a criminal.

He moaned as he lay on the ground, the exhaust and dust from the car settling on his face. The dogs burst through the trees, the excited shouts of the cops not far behind.

They had the technology, but wouldn't waste it - or the money, for that matter - on a criminal slated for death row. Goddamn cheap doctors.

He almost had gotten away. He would have been able to open the door in time, if not for that useless prosthetic hand. As the first dog reached him, he vaguely wondered when they would discover the hook stuck in the door handle.

-- END --

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