The woman walked very slowly towards the riverbank. She looked straight ahead, her eyes glazed and bloodshot. When she reached the water's edge, she sat, dangling her bare feet in the water, then slid on her bottom until her feet hit solid river bed. Her hands met each other at her lap,and she scooped water up to her chin, where she lapped at it, like a cat. That done, she shook her head, as if to clear it, then she scooped again, this time drinking greedily, then another handful, then a fourth.

She turned and vomited a little onto the grass, then drank another scoop of the river water. It took more strength to hoist her body up out of the water, but she found it somehow, and lay flat on the grass. Her body knew what was necessary now, no amount of fear would prevent it. She had no energy left now to worry.

She slept, for the first time in days, a dreamless slumber. One, maybe two hours passed. She woke when a spider crawled across her face. She knew it was a spider. A week ago, she would have squealed and shaken it off. But a lot had changed in a week. She had been wandering, half conscious, for who knew how long. Her instinct for survival had brought her to this body of water, and as she woke, her mind, which had switched off about this time yesterday, started to let a few memories back in.


She had been with Sal, out here, but didn't really know why. Had they been gathering berries, or looking for coneys? No, she didn't think it was anything like that. They had been frightened, that was why they had left. Why had Nate not been with them?

She sat up and shook her head again. It hurt real bad. She was starting to feel, and pain, which had been the last conscious sense to go yesterday, was the first to return. She put her hands up to her half closed eye, then prodded the cheekbone beneath, the skin was sore and puffy, the bone gave a little and she felt the edges grinding. So, it was bust... Did someone hit her, had she fallen? She felt along her jawbone. Yes, that was tender too, but not as bad as the cheek.

Then she remembered. Nate's fists, his wild, angry face. Sal, brave little Sal, jumping up and standing between her and her man, then Nate grabbing her baby sister by the throat and shaking, shaking. She knew she had picked something up, a heavy thing, what was it? and brought it down as hard as she could on the back of his head. Her stomach cramped at the thought and she retched for a few seconds – just dry heaves, thankfully, because her dehydrated tissues had soaked up all the water while she slept.

She had no idea how far she and Sal had walked when they heard the voice call her name. They had run in the opposite direction from the town, somehow knowing that if Nate came searching, he'd go towards people, not wilderness.

''Amy'' they'd heard, twice. She knew it was Nate, though he sounded a little different. She ran, thinking Sal would follow, but when she looked behind her a minute later, her sister wasn't there. Her brave sister, who had risked her life to protect her, and she had not cared enough to do the same. What a coward. She retraced her steps, went back to the place where she'd left Sal, but there was no sign. Perhaps she'd imagined the voice. What if she hadn't, and Nate now had Sal?

Then she'd heard the voice again. ''Amy.'' Definitely not Nate's voice this time. She whirled round. And saw him.

Not Nate, but an old man dressed all in black. He was grinning at her, showing grey, rotting teeth and holding out his hands.

''Come with me, Amy. Sarah is with me. You'll both be safe with us.''

''Us?'' she had asked. ''There are two of you? And where is my sister?''

''Oh, Amy, there are many of us.'' she said, grinning. ''We have Nate, too. He forgives you, Amy. You did a bad thing to him but we have taught him how to forgive you.''

As he spoke, she saw a large figure appear through the trees. The face was terrible, bull-like, but she knew that it had once been the man she'd loved. He stood behind the little man, not moving. Just looking at her, with red, angry eyes. She felt that he would not approach her unless this man commanded it. She gathered what courage she had left.

''I will come with you if you show me my sister. I want to know that she's safe.'' Her voice was little more than a whisper.

The little man just looked at her, still grinning.

''Sarah!'' she yelled. ''Sal, answer me if you're there.''

There was no reply. The thing that had been Nate inched closer, and the man nodded. Amy knew then that it had been a lie,and she ran, not stopping to look behind her. At first she sensed the old man and the other – whatever it was - keeping up with her, but she must have been faster. She knew she had to be.

There was a clump of dense bushes ahead and she plunged into it, not caring that the branches tore at her clothes and exposed skin. Crouching down as low as she could she waited, holding her breath, then breathing as shallowly as she dared. She heard rustling around her and held her breath again, her heart pounding and her chest on fire from the effort.

Eventually, she heard nothing, but she stayed still, and waited. She did not know how much time had passed, until she felt that it was safe to poke her head out. Looking around, she saw nothing. Heard no sounds. She stepped out of the bushes and crept back in the direction of where the man and Nate – if that was who it had been – had found her. Still nothing. And no Sal either.

She started walking again, wanting to call her sister's name, but not daring, in case they heard her.

She had no idea where she was going, but felt that if she just kept going, following her instincts, she would find safety...and maybe, hopefully, find Sal too.


How many days ago that had been, she did not know. She walked without resting, without eating or drinking, until she had come to this place. Now she must carry on. She looked up at the sky, where a bird was circling, maybe a mile or so ahead.  Something told her that was the way to go,  She turned her back on the river, and walked on.

The End

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