| We both weakly look at each other, then to the woods. Grace finally takes a deep breath, and kicks at the sidewalk. James folds his arms impatiently.|
"It's getting dark. You know it will be a fast shortcut." He tries to convince her. Her eyes still stay stuck to the ground. The street lamp lights up the paved road, and we are standing on the side of the street,on the sidewalk, looking out to the woods. The moon gently gives the forest a soft glow. The trees are still huge and intimidating, but the moonlight almost reassures me that all is well.
"Fine." She agrees. We both hold each other's hands, and James bravely takes the first step into the woods. The ground is dry and dirty, and there is no grass. All we do is walk forward. What becomes two minutes becomes five. Then five becomes ten. Ten becomes twenty.
"You know, we really shouldn't be here. I hear that these woods are haunted," Grace whispers.
"Oh really," James sarcastically responds. "Did you know that I am actually Santa?
Come on, Grace. Give me a break." I roll my eyes, and put an arm around Grace.
"It's ok. This really is a shortcut." I suggest. It doesn't help. Grace still is shaking.
"No! You don't understand. There was this girl..." She took a deep breath. "That went into the woods just like us. For a shortcut, I mean," She continues, and I nod. "But she was reported missing after several, and I mean SEVERAL hours of not returning home. Authorities went into the woods, but they couldn't find her. They only found a grave. A grave with her name on it. In these woods." She finished, and drew a deep breath, apparently satisfied.
"You mean to tell me there is a graveyard in these woods? My goodness Grace, you need help." James mutters under his breath. We all silently keep moving, hands to our sides, enjoying the beauty of the forest. The tree bark rugged, and scratched. Are those... claw marks?? James turns to me, noticing too.
"Bears." Is all he says. But something about those claw marks...
And then we heard it. We are standing deep in the woods, clutching our hands together. Something whispering.
"Grace.... Grace..." Â I hear. The moonlight, almost on cue, slips away, above the treetops and disappears. Darkness. My eyes adjust, and I whirl around, still holding Grace's hand. I feel James breathing on my neck. Panting. Something was here. My heart skips a beat.
There was something here.
"Grace...." I raspy, dark, quiet voice echoes in my ear. A figure, I make out. Tall. Arm's outreached.
"Sophie..." Grace whispers, her voice shaking in horror. I scream.
She's there and then she's not.
Grace is ripped out of my hands, and I scream. I blood curdling, piercing scream. I hear her screams. Terror. Complete terror. I scream back her name. A deep, sickening horror fills every part of me. I was trapped. I finally went out of shock and ran into the darkness, easily making out shapes of bushes and trees. Grace's screams had disappeared, and in place, a moaning. And then there were no screams. No moaning. Tears flew down my face. I was dead. I was dead.
Then suddenly, the moonlight. It pierced through the leafy branches of the trees and brightly illuminated the ground. I ran, faster, calling for Grace.
And then I found her.
She was sprawled on her back, her limbs twisted unnaturally. Covered in blood. Eyes staring lifelessly up into the leafy treetop. Claw marks everywhere. Deep claw marks.
She was dead.
I screamed. No. No. No. This isn't real. This is all a dream. Not real. Not. Real. I look desperately at James, who seems to be in shock.
"This isn't happening." He says. I turn to him, eyes wild. I finger through my hair.
"Grace." I whisper. She's dead. Grace, my best friend... dead. James stares at me.
"What do we do?" He asks, still trembling. My voice shakes.
"She's torn to shreds!! Grace is DEAD!!!!!" I scream, clutching my head. This isn't real. And then I see it. The figure. Arms outreached. James.
"NOOOO!!!!" I scream, pushing him out of the way. The creature stumbles, then is gone. Just like that. It was there, then it wasn't. James lays on the floor, in shock, and I help him up.
"Run." He says. We run. Legs moving, arms pumping. Running out of breath. Running out of time. Grace. Trees passing me in a blur. So hazy. Out of breath.
And then I trip.
I am on the dirt floor, and my knee is bleeding. It only stings a little. I wince, and James helps me up. What did I trip on?? I look around to see....
.... a tombstone.
I gasp, James does too. I look all around us. Tombstones, old and aged, covered in moss, scatter the forest floor. There is a deep mist on the ground, and it is so thick I can barely make out my feet. I study my knee. My jeans are ripped and torn, and bloody. I start to cry, and James puts an arm around me.
And then he's gone.
Something pulls him away, pulls him deeper into the woods. I hear his screams. I feel his fear. I felt his hands desperately trying to hold on to my arm.
And I just stood there. I couldn't see him, but he started to moan. And then there was nothing. And I was alone. I limped where he had been pulled, and I found him, like Grace, sprawled on the ground. His eyes were rolled back in his head, and he was covered in blood. Clawed at. Murdered. Dead. I closed my eyes in grief, too traumatized for tears. I was next. I was going to die. And then I felt something. Something clutching my ankle. I looked down.
"HE'S COMING FOR YOU!!!!!!!!!" He screams. Blood is splattered all over my jeans. I scream harder than I ever have. His eyes. White. Lifeless. And then his head droops, onto my foot. His grasp is loose. I scream, and kick him off. I run away harder than I ever have and ever will. Grace. James. Me. He is coming for me. I leave the graveyard. I leave Grace. I leave James.
And that's when I hear it.
"No. No. LEAVE ME ALONE!!!" I scream.
And then I see it. Through the trees. My neighborhood. I kick my legs so hard against the ground it hurts. It is getting closer. I could feel it.
And then I made it.
One moment I was in the woods, and then I was up the gravel driveway, the moon shining, and then up the doorstep of my house. I knock so hard my knuckles bleed. Mom opens the door.
"Where have you been? It's dinner time, sweetie." She smiles.
"Mom. Grace. James. Dead." I feel the world start to spin.
"Who are Grace and James?" Mom's eyes roll back into her head, her eyes white. I fall to the ground. She grows tall, and I feel something grab me. And then I am in the woods....
.... where I know there won't be an end.