Prologue | Hunted
The night was dark, darker than usual.
Even still Maggie had always been at home in these woods. They were her backyard growing up. So, she had learned most of the shortcuts, where they led and where she shouldn’t go. She felt safe among the trees and wild things. They were as familiar to her as the lines of her palm.
But tonight, something was different.
It might have been the fact that she had witnessed Avery Vanderville kiss her boyfriend. The image kept replaying over and over again in her mind, which only served as fuel to her anger. Maggie’s feet propelled her deeper into the thick of woods, forcing her to start pushing the low hanging branches out of her face in frustration.
What an ass, she thought to herself as she walked further away from firelight and drunken laughter of her schoolmates. This was the first time that Corey had invited her to hang out with his group of friends. Up to this point, everything between them was hidden behind quiet glances exchanged in the hallways or nighttime visits to her bedroom.
Shame colored her cheeks. Maybe he was using her this entire time. The doubt soured her tongue. No, whatever Corey had felt for her couldn’t have just been manipulation. It just meant that he was a complete idiot.
She cast a look over her shoulder every few feet feeling like she wasn’t alone like someone was following her through the darkness. She pulled her red hoodie tighter around herself, stuffing her hands deeper into the pocket. Her breath coming in little puffs of white in front of her as the chill in the evening air seemed to grow.
The sound of skittering footsteps behind her had speeding up her steps a bit, a crawling feeling building in the pit of her stomach. She’d seen enough horror movies that her mind was beginning to come up with horrible images. A branch snapped to her left and she jolted turning her face in the direction, staring into the shadows for a moment before she started walking again. She told herself it was probably a squirrel or something. Yeah, it was just a squirrel or owl.
When she began to relax into her walk again there came the sound of more branches snapping, closer than they had been before. “Corey if that’s you, it’s not funny. You better knock it off.”
He had tried to stop her before she took off, wanting to “explain” the situation. What was there to explain? She had seen the two of them kissing and that was enough for her. If Avery wanted something than Avery got it. There were no if’s, and’s, or but’s.
She heard the sound of twigs snapping behind her. “Seriously Corey? Go away. Go back to Avery,” she said over her shoulder in a bitter tone. She just needed to get home so she could curl up with her favorite blanket and a carton of mint chip ice cream and cry her eyes out.
There was a low growling sound that had a shiver of dread racing up her spine and nestling deep into her bones. Her body stilled in movement, back stiff as a board. Time seemed to drag on into eternity for those couple of seconds that she remained motionless before it started up again. Slowly, she turned to face reality.
A pair of golden eyes stared out of the shadows at her, the hair on the back of her neck raising on end. A rumbling growl stretched out between her and whatever was watching her. It wasn’t human that much she knew. It wasn’t human and the look in those eyes seemed to promise only one thing.
She suddenly regretted coming into the woods alone. She should have stayed back at the party with her schoolmates. She should have stayed and listened to Corey’s stupid explanation. She should have done a good number of things besides come into the woods.
The muscles tightened in Maggie’s legs, body pumping adrenaline through her veins as her heart rate skyrocketed. She stared into those golden eyes a moment longer before she twisted on her heels, and ran away as fast as her legs would carry her. The direction didn’t matter all that much, only that she get away.
She was running and it was chasing her. She heard it crashing through the trees behind her, moving much swifter than she was. The beast was practically breathing down her neck. She could almost feel its teeth scraping against the heel of her sneakers.
She tripped over a large branch, tumbling down to the ground head over heel. Over and over she tumbled, rolling down a small embankment that had once housed a large river at the bottom that had over time deteriorated into a steam. She laid at the bottom, body aching from the fall.
A growl echoed through her body, vibrating her cells with absolute fear. She turned her face in time to see those golden eyes and a set of razor-sharp teeth coming at her. She lifted her arm in an attempt to block the incoming attack.
Its teeth sunk into her arm; a scream bubbled out of her mouth. It bit down harder at the sound as if her agony excited it more. She could feel the pain as she thrashed to get it the beast off of her, she didn’t plan on dying like this. She kicked up with her foot hard enough that it released her with a loud yelp of its own pain. She rolled over onto her stomach, scrambling and slipping over the dried leaves and debris that covered the ground as she pushed up to her feet again.
She ran with her wounded arm tucked in close to her stomach, her legs not moving as fast as they had before.
“Help! Someone! Help!” she screamed as she continued to move through the trees. She could feel the hysteria settling in over her mind as she struggled to fight off the urge to cry out in despair.
Her eyes caught a light as it flickered on in the distance, it looked like a light shining through a window. She almost let out a cry of relief at the sight, the house had to be about two hundred feet away from her. All she needed to do was reach that house, then she would be safe. Determination and the will to survive pumped through her as she pushed her legs to move faster.
She would make it to the house.
It was only hundred feet away now.
She would live.
It was only seventy-five feet away.
The front door to the house was only fifty feet away. She was about to break free from the snaggled and crooked trees at the edge of the clearing when a force rammed into her from behind, sending her flying forward. Her head slammed against a rock that was hidden in the darkness under the dead and rotting fall leaves. She saw stars as her brain rattled around in her skull. She lifted her face to get a view of the front door, completely disoriented.
She was so close.
“Help me...” she called out in a terrified rasp that drifted away in the sound of the rustling leaves overhead. Teeth sank into her ankle, and the beast dragged her back into the woods.
The rest of Maggie’s screams were swallowed in the singing wind and groaning trees.