The tyres skidded against the cold bitumen of the deserted old highway as Hallie Walker’s father braked for the lone man who appeared out of the heavy fog dead ahead. The car protested, the tyres squealing and buckling beneath them from the strain. Hallie screamed as the sharp smell of burnt rubber wafted up to fill her nostrils.
The car jerked as her father lost control. The car spun and her heart thudded in her chest. The sudden impact as the Ford Fairlane hit the thick, dense tree truck sent her twelve-year-old body tumbling into the foot-well between the front and back seats with a thud. She’d stupidly released the seatbelt to find a more comfortable position in an effort to fall asleep, the trip long and tedious and now regretted the decision. She lay frozen on the floor for a moment, stunned before sitting up, slowly registering the minor aches and pains that would later leave bruises. Smoke escaped from beneath the hood and a sizzling sound reverberated through the semi-silent night, the only other sound other than their harsh breathing was Slim Dusty played lightly on the stereo.
Her breath came in white puffs as the heat from her mouth met the frigid pre-dawn August air which poured into the car through the cracked and splintered windscreen.
Her father’s head lay against the steering wheel and he slowly lifted it, turning towards her mother whose eyes were closed; her head resting against the back of her seat but thankfully otherwise uninjured. He turned his attention to her. “Hallie, baby, are you—”
Her father’s words were cut off as his window shattered and two large hands reached in and pulled him roughly from the car’s interior. She thought she screamed but she couldn’t be sure. Her father struggled against the man who had appeared out of nowhere and threw him roughly to the road. She heard her father grunt. Her breath caught in her throat as she watched in horror as the man stabbed her father repeatedly. Black dots danced in her vision and she swallowed hard, almost passing out at the gory image in front of her.
Her mother scrambled from her seat and started running back the way they’d driven, the sound of her heels on the asphalt echoing in the night. Hallie froze for the second time that night, terrified. She was alone. She wanted to call out to her father but knew it was too late. He lay unmoving on the dark, pockmarked road. Screaming for help would be useless. She hadn’t seen another car for hours.
She trembled. Tears burned her eyes as fear cooled her blood. She had no idea what to do. It didn’t matter, she couldn’t get her limbs to move anyway. She shook as she held the tears in check. Her whole world was disappearing before her eyes. The man raised his head and started after her mother, his long legs eating up the distance between them; his footsteps thundering against the road.
The man reached out and grabbed her mother’s blonde hair, jerking her back into his chest. She screamed, the sound piercing Hallie’s eardrums as her mother kicked and struggled against him.
Hallie ducked back into her hiding place in the foot-well as the man dragged her mother back toward her. She chewed on her nails, a horrible habit and her fingers bled when she bit past the quick. Hallie’s gaze found the man’s face and remained there. As hard as she tried, she could not look away. As he moved closer, the moon’s bright rays bounced off his long, dark, greasy hair, illuminating him in the night almost like a spotlight, highlighting his features. The man’s lower face was covered with several days’ worth of growth. His heartless brown eyes glowed almost demonically in the light and she felt her bladder release, filling the car with the scent of ammonia.
Her mind ran riot with thoughts. Why was he doing this? She wondered and she thought of several scenarios. None ended favourably. She felt the first stages of a panic attack and tried to calm herself, taking long, deep breaths even as she cowered back into the small space as the man’s shadow cast over her.
From the short distance dividing them, Hallie could see the well-worn jeans encasing strong well-developed legs. The jeans themselves were threadbare. The left back pocket dangled down, held on only by a few measly threads. Tears fell unabashedly down her cheeks. Her nose ran and she watched everything through misty eyes.
She was a coward, useless and scared. The man had just killed her father and was now about to send her mother to the same fate. But still her body felt heavy, unable to move except to push herself further in to the floor. A sob escaped her mouth and she quickly stuffed her fist in the gaping hole to muffle any further sounds. Her teeth bit into her hand, her mind numb against the horrors she had already witnessed this night. She shivered, the warm air from the heater long since evaporated and replaced with the icy breeze outside. She curled up into a ball as much as the car would allow.
Hallie heard her mother’s pleading voice as she was shoved none too gently onto her recently vacated seat. Hallie knew she would never forget the pungent scent of the man for as long as she lived. A combination of blood and bad hygiene and a thought kept repeating itself inside her head.
We’re going to die.
Her mother made a sound of despair and Hallie’s gaze shot back to her mother and their eyes met and held. She watched helplessly as the man brought his knife up to her mother’s throat and pressed it deeply into the soft delicate flesh of her neck. Blood spilled from her body, flowing onto the seat and ruining the careful detail of the vehicle.
A scream, muffled around her fist, escaped Hallie’s throat as she watched her mother’s body go limp and lifeless. The man looked straight into her eyes and once again she felt frozen, as if the ice in his veins jumped from his eyes into her. She shivered uncontrollably.
Hallie had the car door open and was racing towards the tree line before the man could react. Her tiny frame and short stature allowed her to blend into the woods as she sprinted for her life. Her vision blurred black as she ran faster, the darkness swelling around her. She could only just make out where there were gaps in the thick trees and bushes. The fog hindering her even more as she made her way further into the dense growth.
Her heart jumped to her throat and she was having trouble breathing. Her feet landed heavily on the ground and every so often she heard a twig snap under the pressure of her weight. She could hear the man behind her covering twice as much ground with his much longer and stronger legs. She strained to hear his breathing and desperately wanted to know if he was winded in hopes he would give up the chase. She didn’t dare look back for fear of tripping. She was already having trouble with that, her focus on the ground.
Hallie knew he was closing in fast behind her. She pushed herself to go faster even though she was exhausted and her body was ready to collapse. Her nose twitched as her feet kicked up the undergrowth. The scent of mouldy leaves and damp soil assaulting her senses. The sound of heavy stomping behind her terrified her but she didn’t allow it to immobilise her. Her brain had long ago kicked into survival mode and didn’t let her dwell on anything but getting to safety.
Hallie had no illusions. She knew if the man behind her caught up with her, he would kill her just like he had done to her mother and father. She breathed in through her nose and out her mouth just as she had been taught. Her whole body ached with fatigue and fear and she wanted so much to curl up and cry in despair. She whimpered uncontrollably knowing she was almost beaten.
She pressed her right arm against her side as a stitch made her uncomfortable. She pushed on. She had to keep going. Hopefully soon she would be out of the woods and into a clearing. Maybe then she could find a busy road or a house. She was well within the forest now. In every direction stood more trees and even more bushes, both furry and prickly.
Hallie heard the sound of tearing right before she was jerked back. She panicked, striking out trying to hit her target. It took her a few full seconds to realise she was still alone and that she was caught on a branch sticking out of an old flaky tree. She yanked at her winter jacket vigorously, the fabric well entwined with the branch. Desperate, she quickly unzipped the garment, shivering as the cool air hit her bare arms but soon she completely forgot about the cold.
Little mewing sounds came from her throat as she imagined she could feel her pursuer’s horrid breath on her neck, his hands on her pulling him to her, the feel of his knife against her own throat. Distracted she tripped over a group of raised roots and scratched her face on the bark of the closest tree as she tried to steady herself.
Hallie headed straight, the trees not so dense up ahead to what she considered north. Her legs gave way as she came across a small dip in the ground and her body landed heavily with a thud on the leaf-covered floor. Without sparing a moment to wallow in self-pity she climbed to her feet, feeling her ankle buckle beneath her before crashing once more to the ground. She bit her bottom lip to stop from crying out and alerting the man to her location and started crawling, her pants soaking up the damp ground. She barely made it a metre before she felt the ground beneath her give way to a sharp decline.
Hallie’s hand flayed about in mid-air for a moment right before her body slipped and she tumbled down into the river resting at the base of the decline. Her head went under the water and she struggled not to breathe. She kicked her feet and tried to swim as she resurfaced. Her waterlogged clothes tugged at her, determined to send her to a watery grave. The current proved to be too strong and pulled her light weight away from the edge and into the whirling centre before she was once more dragged under, down into the murky depths.