Chapter 2: Dark
Darkness was safety, and yet, Kai, as all humans were, was wary of it. Her mind always wandered to the plots of the horror movies she’d stayed up late watching with her friends the summer before her sophomore year of high school, the last year she’d made an attempt to attend school. School of course, had not been the same after the arrival of the creatures above.
Many of the teachers at Kai’s school had been young, and those over the age of sixty were seldom taken. She remembered the class of high school seniors growing smaller and smaller, through both takings and runners. The attempt to preserve normalcy seemed quite stupid to Kai, as nobody could really ignore the disappearing young people. She still carried her school ID card in the bottom of her backpack, as leaving it had felt wrong somehow. The card, to Kai, was a representation of who used to be, including the name she’d once used. Kai, in truth, was not remotely close to her real name, but a name she’d chosen because it had many meanings, everything from “fire” to “sea”, to “beginning” to even “chicken”. To Kai, a name as ambiguous as herself seemed appropriate, and leaving her old name behind seemed a good way to become a truly flexible and unremarkable individual.
It was her goal to go unnoticed long enough to be undesirable, to be left alone to live a life on Earth. A part of her lamented her intended loss of youth, but she knew it was necessary. Either way she’d lose her free youth years, but this way, she knew it would be on her terms, not on the terms of some bestial alien. She wondered just how long her self-imposed isolation would have to last in order to preserve her freedom. She certainly doubted she’d be able to settle down, as most women were enthralled by the idea of a mysterious and otherworldly creature becoming their bride, enough so that Kai doubted she’d be able to match up to such competition. Regardless of its irrelevance to her situation, Kai often found her mind wandering to romance, to the desire to find someone to love.
The sound of a breaking twig threw Kai from her thoughts, her hand whipping back to touch the hunting knife on her hip. It was an old dull thing, but Kai carried it regardless. She’d stolen it from her father the day she’d left home, and served as a reminder of home.
“Hello?” Her voice shook, and jumped in pitch to a glaringly feminine octave.
Unsurprisingly, there wasn’t an answer. Kai hesitated a moment, and then slowly began to walk again, forcing herself to keep the same steady pace, a pace that allowed her to move silently. She could feel the adrenaline pumping through her veins as moved, every sound in the forest seeming amplified by a thousand.
It couldn’t be a coincidence, could it? Kai took a deep breath, increasing her pace slightly. The sound of footsteps became more clear as she sped up, footsteps at a pace between a fast walk and a jog. Kai slowly increased her pace further, heart thundering, her gaze still set straight ahead.
There is no benefit to looking back, you will only be slowed. Go forward. She told herself, swallowing the panic rising in her chest. She kicked herself for calling out, it had been stupid. Perhaps her pursuer had thought she was a deer, or a rabbit. She’d done this to herself. Her pursuer’s footsteps suddenly halted, and a shout broke the silence, far off enough that Kai couldn’t make out the words. It was enough for Kai to run, not caring that her footsteps crunched through leaves and sticks, and made quite a racket.. If this person was calling out to others, her best chance was to put as much distance between herself and a group as possible. The trees around her had very few branches low enough for Kai to catch and climb, it wasn’t based on her small stature, but rather the size of the trees.
Regardless of this, the trees were barely a viable option, she wouldn’t be able to hide long in the barren trees -- their leaves had been dropped in preparation for the coming winter. She increased her speed, nearly panting with the effort. Within a minute, she could hear shouting and the revving of an engine, a motorcycle, perhaps? How close was she to a camp of people? Kai paused, head whipping from side to side, searching for a place to hide.
Nearby lay a ditch, filled with leaves, a fallen tree laying across the gap. Kai paused a second and then moved toward it, slinging her backpack and then herself into the ditch and laying flat, pressing her face into the cold, muddy ground. As the minutes ticked by, Kai became acutely aware of the cold ground against the skin of her back where her jacket had ridden up, of the weight of her backpack against her thigh, of a sharp stick pressing into her cheek. She forced herself to stay still as death, for now, a lack of motion would be her savior. Kai closed her eyes, as if her own lack of vision would keep her from being seen. A smile tugged at her lips as she recalled the last time this tactic had seemed to work: when she herself was about three playing hide-and-go-seek with her father on a rainy afternoon. The stakes here, of course, were much higher than they had been when she was young, as discovery now meant capture rather than the beginning of a new game.
Kai exhaled, squeezing her eyes shut as the footsteps neared. Her pursuers did not speak, but they certainly did not move in silence. This very fact was comforting, proving that these hunters were indeed human, therefore able to be reasoned with, and more importantly, able to be outwitted. The footsteps paused not a meter from her hiding place, and as Kai cracked open an eye, she saw the beam of a flashlight sweeping from side to side. A moment passed as the figure paused. Kai closed her eyes again, willing herself to be still, to be invisible. The footsteps slowly, but surely, began to move forward. Kai exhaled.
A hand closed around her bicep.