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IT WAS A mess of teeth and claws.

Jeremey darted ahead, leaping up the stairs two by two. The dogs snarled and snapped at the top. The larger one bounded down the steps, straight for us. Its white teeth shone in the flashlight as it bared them and dove. Jeremey wound back. The bat whizzed through the air, and then with a crack, it collided with the side of the dog's head.

The dog let out a yelp, falling back and whimpering.

"Come on!" Jeremey yelled.

We passed it on the stairs as it snarled, recoiling from the hit.

Jeremey wielded the bat out in front of himself as we reached the top. Before he could swing at the smaller dog, it charged at him. Its jaw snapped shut around the bat—sharp teeth sinking into hard wood.

Jeremey shook it, trying to get the dog to release, but it held on like a magnet to metal. Jeremey thrust the bat to the side, shoving the dog out of the way so we could get out of the cellar.

We made the final step, emerging into the cold night air. A hurricane-strength wind blasted past us, nearly knocking me off my feet.

The smaller dog growled, still unwilling to let the bat go. Jeremey shook it one more time, and then with a kick to the face and a final yank, the dog released. It barked and lunged towards us again. With almost no wind up, Jeremey struck the dog's legs, knocking its feet out from under it. It barrel rolled on the ground, kicking dirt into the wind as it yelped.

"Run!" Jeremey shouted, his eyes wide in panic as he turned back to face me.

"The cellar door!" I yelled. We needed to close it. I glanced over my shoulder. The larger dog was recovering, finding its footing again. Its eyes met mine, flashing in the light of the moon.

"Leave it! Lock's broken anyway. Doesn't matter, come on!" Jeremey started to run, still gripping the bat tightly in his right hand.

I followed.

Three steps.

Dogs barking.

Two more steps.

A sudden, shooting pain in my ankle.

Teeth tearing at flesh.

"Fuck!" I screamed. I tumbled to the ground, catching myself on my forearms. The teeth dug into my leg deeper.

A bat cracked down on the dog's head. The dog whimpered, and its teeth immediately released.

Jeremey grabbed me by the arm and pulled me to my feet. "Get up Harper! We have to keep going!"

I stumbled once before finding my footing. I didn't feel anything else as we ran, just adrenaline pumping through my veins. The dogs continued barking, but I didn't look back. I didn't want to see if they were gaining on us.

Our feet kicked dirt into the air as we sprinted to the edge of the field. I blinked my eyes repeatedly, trying to clear them. My lungs burned, but I ignored them and kept running. My steps blurred into one.

Jeremey reached the forest a few seconds ahead of me. Once he got a dozen or so yards into the trees, he slowed down to a brisk jog. I caught up to him, panting from the sprint. My heart pounded against my chest. I wheezed, unable to catch my breath. The trees around us swayed, groaning in the wind like they were alive and haunted.

Jeremey looked back over his shoulder. I looked back as well. The dogs hadn't followed us. They didn't like the woods.

I didn't like it either.

We slowed to a walk.

"Fuck," I finally said when I regained my breath enough to speak.

"Are you all right?" Jeremey asked.

A wet warmth soaked my ankle, but I felt nothing else. "I'm okay."

"Let me look at your leg."

"I'm fine, let's just get out of here."

We continued through the forest, the trees moaning and moving around us. I wheezed painfully. It was like a hole had been poked in my lungs, sucking all the air out of me with each breath. I coughed, and my entire body shook. My leg began to throb in pain as the adrenaline wore off, but I didn't want to stop.

As it got worse, I started to limp, clutching my leg but continuing to trudged on. My vision faded in and out. When I was finally able to focus for a few seconds, I realized Jeremey had somehow gotten a few yards ahead of me. My head spun. I leaned against a tree for balance. The beam from the flashlight went to my feet. The pant leg of my jeans was mangled, dark and damp. An unsettling amount of blood dripped onto my shoe, staining the white fabric a dark red. My stomach turned. It was like I was looking at someone else's leg. It couldn't be mine.


Jeremey was standing in front of me.

"Harper, come on." He slapped my face lightly, and I tried to focus on him. He looked down at my ankle. "Shit."

"I'm okay." I pushed myself off of the tree and took a few more limping steps. Every time my leg moved, pain seared through my entire body. I felt like it was going to crumple beneath me whenever I put weight on it.

"You can't walk," Jeremey told me. "Sit down."

I didn't so much sit as collapse into the bed of dirt and pine needles on the forest floor.

Jeremey took the flashlight from my hand and pushed the leg of my jeans up to look at the bite.

"How bad is it?" I asked, not sure if I wanted to know the answer. I definitely didn't want to look.

"I can't tell. There's too much blood."

"Well that's a good sign." I winced as another wave of pain shot through my body. "Am I going to die?"

"You're going to be okay." Jeremey stood up, still holding the flashlight. "We're almost out of the woods. The street's just a couple hundred yards that way, I think." He pointed off into the distance. "How about this, you wait here, and I'll walk the mile and a half down the road to where we parked the car. Then I'll drive back and park right out on the road and get you."

The trees groaned and shifted as the wind roared through them. The sounds of crunching branches and snapping limbs echoed from deep within the forest. I shivered, suddenly realizing how cold I was.

I didn't want to be left there alone.

"No, I can walk," I said, trying unsuccessfully to pull myself to my feet.

"No, you can't." Jeremey pushed me back down. "Just wait here, Harper. I'll be back in twenty minutes. Thirty tops."

I nodded, realizing I didn't have any other options. "Okay," I finally agreed.

Jeremey handed me the bat. "Just in case." He paused. "I'll be back soon. I promise."

I winced and nodded. Then he turned and jogged off. The light of the flashlight slowly faded into nothing in the distance, and I was alone.

I leaned back, allowing myself to lay down on the ground. My leg throbbed in pain, and my entire body felt light. I watched the trees sway back and forth above my head. They looked like hands in the sky, reaching up to the stars. I wanted to reach up to them too, but my arms were too tired to move.

My vision faded as a haze clouded my mind. I was so cold, but I was paralyzed. I couldn't move to attempt to keep myself warm. I wasn't even shivering anymore.

I counted my breaths. I struggled to get oxygen.

One. Two. Three.

I blinked my eyes, fighting to keep them open.

Four. Five. Six.

In the distance, more tree branches snapped.

Seven. Eight. Nine.

I didn't get to ten.

The wind gave an enormous gust, and then the earth opened up beneath me. I fell into the void, and everything went dark.

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