Chapter Forty-Three

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The Garden of Eden Pt. 1

It's night when I wake, a feather of fog escaping my lips.

The sky is a rolling blanket of ash grey clouds and icy flakes pierce my skin like tiny, sharp needles. The ground by my feet is covered in a light blanket of snow and it takes me a second to realise that I'm lying against a tree, its bark digging into my back, in a clearing next to a lake.

Squinting against the darkness, a strange calmness falls over me. I look out at the rippling water, at how the night covers the lake in its shroud, and think about how beautiful darkness can be.

A voice in the back of my head whispers that something's not right – run, scream, do anything but sit there – but I can't make out any distinct words. The harder I try to listen, the more the words drift away. Why should there be anything to worry about?

Crystal Lake is a safe place – it's home to me, I've been here all my life. Just behind me is our family house and I only have to call to have Mum come running out. I tilt my head, frowning at the pain that shoots across my forehead.

Why am I hurting, then, if Crystal Lake is so safe? Why does it feel like someone's hit my head with a jackhammer? What the hell has happened to me?

The wind howls, piling the snow up in drifts like a choreographed dance. Other than that, the only sound I hear is the sharp inhale of my breath – but even that simple motion hurts, sending a foreign pain racing around the core of my neck. I try to kneel on my hand to stand up, but the world spins around me and something on my chest holds me back against the tree.

When I reach for it, I realise it's rope.

It's wrapped around my body, wire-tight. As my fingers frantically try to find an end, my feet scrape against the ground, mixing mud and dirt like one of the mud-pies Elliot would make when we were young.

A thousand scenarios rush through my head at once. It could be a dream. Yes – a dream! Because stuff like this doesn't happen to people like me – not in real life.

If I close my eyes tight enough, maybe I'll wake up in bed and whatever nightmare this is will stop. I take a deep breath and let darkness cover me. I will my bedroom in my mind until I picture it clearly: pink walls, a view of the lake, pictures of Daisy and me.

But when my eyes open again, I'm still outside, cold biting into my flushed cheeks.

I pinch my skin hard, but if pain were to wake me, then whatever's happened to my head would've done that already. I release a heavy breath and look around. Think, Haley, think. Why are you here?

I look out to the lake and see mountains. Their peaks are sharp, dark silhouettes in the night. If my eyes weren't already adjusted, then I wouldn't be able to see them. Mist hangs between trees and the silence of the snowstorm is like a living thing.

I barely dare to move for fear of stirring whatever waits in the darkness – because, I've realised, something – or someone – is waiting. Watching. I feel their eyes burning against my cheeks, but no matter how hard I squint, I see nothing. No eyes. No silhouette. Nothing. I don't even recognise this lake anymore.

Where am I?

My limbs lock in panic. What am I supposed to do now – just sit here and wait? I grit my teeth, remembering those videos on YouTube on how to escape from a rope. I always skipped past them, thinking – why would I need that? Nothing bad will ever happen to me.

God, what an idiot.

I should have watched the stupid video. What would Daisy think if she saw me right now? She'd know what to do. Hell, she's skilled in practically everything and is –

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