I was a storm, whirling around the small, dank room as fast as I could, picking up clothes, food, water – anything I could get my hands on – and stuffing it all in a black duffel bag I had found in the closet.
I didn’t have much time.
He was coming. He was never far away.
With few minutes to spare, I hurriedly placed the last of the granola bars in my bag and zipped it up. I should leave now. I should be gone now. Why was I still here?
I glanced around the cabin one last time, throwing the duffel bag over my shoulder. This had been my cage for too long. I was breaking out.
Turning my back on the last three years of my life, I reached for the doorknob slowly, amazed at how easily it opened. Then I looked outside. Evening had already fallen. There was nothing but wilderness awaiting me beyond the cabin. But wilderness was better than this. Anything was better than this.
I took a deep breath, mentally preparing myself for what lay ahead. Then I ran.
I ran and ran and ran for what felt like hours, trying to put as much distance as I could between me and the cabin, but no amount of distance would ever be enough.
When it felt like my legs were ready to collapse, I stopped to lean against a tree and catch my breath, wanting to get moving as soon as I could. Every second I spent here was another second I lost, and I couldn’t afford to lose time. Time was all I had.
But no matter how hard I tried to get back on my feet, I just couldn’t take another step. I had already lost my head start.
I slid down to the forest floor and pulled my knees in, holding back my tears of defeat. Then, still grasping on to my last strand of hope, I reached into the duffel bag for the cell phone.
Earlier in the day, after James had told me that he needed to go farther out this time for better game, he made me promise not to try to run away again. He threatened me that if I did, he would be forced to do something that I wouldn’t like. But I was desperate for freedom, so I used the opportunity to search the forest for something – anything – that could help me get away.
It was a miracle that I had found a cell phone – an actual, working cell phone – in the middle of the forest. I had grabbed for it as soon as I saw it and held it to my chest, silently thanking whoever had dropped it. Then I checked for service.
There was none of course. But I didn’t let that discourage me. Instead, I started forming a plan for escape.
If I could just get close enough to civilization to get phone service, I might have a chance.
Now here I was, clutching the tiny little device that was supposed to save my life. I almost didn’t want to flip it open.
But then I heard the familiar sound of running.
He was close.
I flipped open the phone with lightning speed, holding my breath as the screen started loading. I tried to block out the sound of his feet pounding through the night, coming closer to me with each step he took, while waiting anxiously for it to come up. But it was no use.
My time was up.
The sound of running had stopped, and I knew that James had found me, like he always did. But I couldn’t look away from the cell phone in my hands. I couldn’t meet his eyes.
“Well, well,” he said, chuckling darkly. “What do you think you’re doing, little dove?”
I shook my head, tears beginning to trickle down my face as I finally met his gaze. James was standing about six feet away from me, his back against a tree, facing me. But I knew that even with the little bit of distance between us, he could run toward me in the blink of an eye and crush me in his arms. “Please don’t hurt me,” I begged hopelessly in a whispered voice I hardly recognized. But I knew he would hear it.
His cold demeanor fell away instantly at the sound of my voice, and slowly he started walking towards me. I scrambled away from him, losing the cell phone in my rush to get away, but he just shook his head. “Relax, my little dove. I won’t hurt you.”
I stopped and stared at him curiously. His eyes were dark, which meant that he had just fed. But that didn’t make me feel any safer.
James stopped in front of me and held out his hand. I took it hesitantly, and he helped me to my feet. I brushed the dirt off my clothes and looked at him once again.
As soon as my eyes met his gaze, James smiled and reached for my face, wiping away the last of my tears. Then his smile turned into a frown as he brushed strands of hair away from my eyes. “Victoria, why did you run away again?”
I looked down at the ground, not sure how to answer. He gently tilted my chin up and held me there, forcing me to look at him. “Please tell me, dear dove. What made you run away?”
I pulled away and turned around so my back was to him. When he talked like this, I almost felt guilty for trying to escape. “I don’t know,” I choked out.
James wrapped his arms around me from behind and held me close. “Shh, it’s okay, sweet dove. Don’t cry. I’m here.”
I nodded and forced back the tears. Then I turned around in his arms and wrapped mine around him, burying my face in his chest, next to his undead heart. He began running his fingers through my hair reassuringly, and I never wanted him to stop.
We stayed like that for a little while, not saying anything to each other. Finally, James broke the silence, “My dove, please tell me why you ran away. I need to know.”
I sighed into his chest and whispered, “I found a cell phone.”
James suddenly tensed up, his arms going rigid around me. Then he nodded, relaxing back against me, seemingly lost in thought. “Okay. And you thought that there was a chance you could use the cell phone to run away?”
I nodded. It seemed like a stupid idea now.
His fingers stopped, and I almost protested in response. But then his lips found my forehead, and he placed a tender kiss there. “I’m sorry, my little dove, but I can’t let you go.”
I nodded. “I know.”
James pulled back slightly to look into my eyes. “Do you? Because it doesn’t seem like you’ve learned your lesson yet.”
I shook my head. “I can’t help it. I hate being stuck in that cabin by myself all the time.”
James pressed himself against me again and kissed the top of my head. “You know I’m never far away, don’t you, dear dove? If you yell for me, I’ll come in a heartbeat.”
“I know,” I said softly. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be,” he said, running his fingers through my hair again. I sighed in content. “I should be the one saying sorry.”
I frowned in confusion. “What do you have to apologize for?”
“This,” he whispered. And then he sank his teeth into my neck.
I froze for a fraction of a second, and then started flailing my arms and kicking my legs, trying to push him away from me to no avail. “No! Stop! You can’t do this to me!”
But James didn’t stop, and soon I started feeling lightheaded. Everything began spinning around me in a dizzying array, and my vision started to blur. I was losing a lot of blood.
“Please,” I gasped. “Don’t do this.”
I could feel the blood draining out of me and see my life start to fade away, but there was nothing I could do to stop it.
He was going to kill me.
My arms and legs turned sluggish as the fight slowly left me. I could barely hold myself up anymore, relying entirely on him for support.
Then I fell to the ground. I can’t remember if it was because James let go of me or if my legs had just given out from underneath me.
The last thing I saw was his face hovering over me as he said, “I will always love you, but you have broken my heart for the last time.”