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Fantasticoe 2001 -  10th Anniversary Issue

 

THE HUNTER

Kimberly Schnurr



Panic engulfed all of her senses as she frantically tried to make progress through the woods. Her body ached with fatigue because of the endless abuse she had endured for what seemed like days. Biting memories of the metal rod striking her across the back made her shoulder blades throb.

Tripping over partially unearthed roots and clawing the muddied ground, she made her way up the hill. Only a few miles away from the cave, she knew she had not gone far enough to be safe. Slipping on the wet earth she hit the ground with a hard thud. She gasped as her rib cage came into contact with a sharp rock jutting out of the earth. She was careful not to cry out for fear the Hunter would hear her.

The throbbing in her head became more intense, drowning out her ability to hear anything from the world that surrounded her. Flashes of bright red light clouded her vision; her chest hurt while she struggled quietly to catch her breath. Hidden by some brush, she allowed her body to relax just enough so some of the pain would cease.

Just as she thought she'd escaped him, she heard the sounds that struck fear into the very core of her. Dogs. She knew about the dogs and what they could do to a strong healthy person, she didn't even want to imagine what they could do to a person who was already broken.

They were getting closer, but she didn't panic; she was right where she needed to be. A small gnarled tree stood a few feet above her, and the crude noose she had woven for herself hung from one of the knobby branches. She thought this was a good place to die, because the branch hung over the steep drop-off ensuring she couldn't touch the ground.

She closed her eyes and her mind flashed backed to a few hours earlier. Sitting in the corner of that crude prison, the dirt walls seemed to cave in on her. However, she tried to not to let it bother her. She put all her effort into finishing the primitive rope out of the blanket he had left her with in that dank hell-hole. Her mind was constantly racing, she was desperate to get out of there. She wasn't thinking rationally, she knew that there wasn't a chance to escape her captor's wrath. Miles away from her running trail nobody knew she was out here. Her only chance of escape was suicide, so all of her energy had gone into making that rope.

The few hours she had spent in captivity, her captor had unleashed his fury upon her. Using the metal rod he had beat her repetitively, striking her across the back and her upper thighs. He had beat her within an inch of her life and she had sworn that it would never happen again. She had hoped that her cries of pain would make him stop the cruelty, but it only seemed to fuel his anger. She played on the severity of her injuries, fooling him to let his guard down. Several hours later her lethargy paid off.

When he came to give her the warm meat he had forced her to eat for food, she put her plan into action. She had thrown what was left of her ratted blanket over his head and shoved him into the wall. Caught off guard, he had been unable to react to her sudden confidence. She had bought herself enough time to make her way into the dense woods.

Fear was the only thing that had given her enough strength to escape that sadistic creature. She ran for what seemed to be forever and was about to collapse when she saw the shallow drop off. It wasn't much but as she neared the edge she saw several trees that had limbs hanging over the small incline. She hung her makeshift noose from the first tree she thought was capable of holding her weight. She tied the knot around the tree so tight that the rope bit into her hands and made them bleed. She was about to stick her head through the hole when she collapsed and started crying. The reality of what she was about to do hit her, causing her to crumple into a ball onto the forest floor. Shaking and sobbing, she was too afraid of death to move. Her adrenaline rush slowly started to fade, allowing him and his damn dogs to close the distance between her.

Her heart started racing, as she heard the dogs getting closer. NOW!! She thought. She scrambled the rest of the way up the incline, and there he stood, dogs in hand. Shocked that he was closer than she had originally thought, she lunged for the noose. Frantically she stuck her head in the noose, never once taking her eyes off the man or the salivating beasts. One of them jumped forward ferociously snapping its jaws at the girl's ankles. She shrieked and jerked backward, her feet slipped out from underneath her and the knot on the noose suddenly tightened. A sickening crack broke through the horrific scene, and the girl's body went numb. Her captor watched in silence as the branch she was hanging from started to give under the weight it was trying to hold. The girl's eyes darted to the branch, and as if it knew she was watching, the tree groaned. As the branch snapped, her body landed in a distorted heap.

"Umph!" she groaned, and then her body proceeded to tumble down the hill. She looked like a rag doll that was being carelessly played with by a child. As she hit rocks and trunks of trees that were barely teenagers, she knew it should hurt, but the fact that she could feel no pain scared the hell out of her. "Oh God! What if I live through this," she thought as her body came to an abrupt halt face up at the bottom of the incline. Tears blurred her vision when she realized that her plan at freeing herself had failed, and now he would make her pay. She started weeping, her body involuntarily convulsing with fear and slowly she blinked away the tears. She saw him standing there; he wore the generic emotionless expression that always covered his face while he had tortured her. Countless times she screamed at him calling him inhuman because he didn't feel a thing while he was playing his sick game. Now as he watched her, a smile flickered over his lips.

"You bitch," she whispered, and she let out one last blood-curdling scream as she saw his hand drop the leashes that held the dogs. She watched in horror as one of the dogs lunged toward her throat, wild-eyed and out-of-control, then everything went black.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Chad's body lurched forward as the rest of his breakfast came out into the toilet bowl. A sheen of sweat covered his face, and his body ached and trembled from getting sick the past twenty minutes. While his head hung in the toilet, the feelings that bombarded his senses made him want to die. He silently wished the earth would open up and swallow him, taking him into a deep abyss where he wouldn't have to face this terrible tragedy. MURDER? SUICIDE? ACCIDENT? They couldn't answer any of his questions, except that the body was hers and it was most likely not an accident. Neck broken, body bruised and badly beaten, the throat ripped out and then the body of his fiancée discarded like a broken toy in the bottom of a ravine. The pictures he had seen flashed through his mind and his body was overcome with the need to vomit again. With nothing left in his stomach, his body was sent into a fit of dry heaves. After the convulsions were over, he laid down on the cold tiles of the bathroom floor, not caring where he was.

Heavy pounding on the door made his head feel like it was going to burst. "Hey Chad, are you okay?" asked his concerned house mate Justin. Chad groaned but didn't reply. "Chad?" Justin paused, "Hey Sydney, he's not doing so well." Tears streaming down his cheeks, Chad pushed himself up to his hands and knees. He slowly stood up and flushed the toilet, he went to the sink and washed his hands and his face with cold water, and then he opened the door. He saw Justin and Sydney standing there together, still unsure if he liked the idea of his best friend from college dating his little sister. However that was the last thing on his mind now.

"Oh God, Chad," Sydney murmured. She walked over to him and put a comforting arm around him. Her face creased with worry, she led him to a couch, and together they sat down. Although Sydney was Chad's younger sister, they looked almost identical. Sydney had brown eyes, and long, silky brown hair with a single black streak. Chad had dark brown hair that was almost black, and his eyes were the color of the tiger's eye stones. They were both really good looking kids, both of them their senior year becoming homecoming royalty, Chad was king his senior year and three years later when his sister graduated she was queen. However none of that glamour and shine could be found in Chad's face today. His face took on a pale green tint, and his normally sparkling eyes were clouded over. Trails of tears stained his cheeks, making him look like he'd been to hell and back.

God knows he had been. He learned of his fiancée's death at three in the morning over at his future in-laws house. He had been over there since Kyla had disappeared, trying to console her parents. However even though his actions were completely heartfelt, he felt frustrated that he couldn't do anything to make the madness end. He watched as her parents collapsed from the weight of the news that their only child, their miracle baby Kyla, was found dead at the bottom of a ravine, a mile from her favorite running trail. He remembered being in so much shock, he had hit his knees and blacked out. All he heard was her parents crying and when he woke up he just left, got behind the wheel of his car and drove, and that was how he had ended up here.

"The Meyers called Chad. They're really worried about you." Sydney looked at her brother, his eyes locked with hers, and tears slowly crept down his face.

"She's gone," he sputtered. Chad's body quivered, and a small cry escaped his throat. "I should've gone running with her, maybe.. If I was there….. Oh God what if I could've prevented it?" A pained look crossed his face and he started sobbing. Sydney hugged him and let his tears soak into her shirt. Over his shoulder she saw Justin scurrying around the kitchen making sandwiches and getting glasses of ice water. He brought it all out and set it on the coffee table in front of the couch. Then Justin walked over to Chad and hugged him.

"Chad, there's nothing you could've done to prevent this from happening. You can't tell the future, you had no way of knowing that -'' Justin stopped and looked at his friend. Sydney slowly moved away from her brother, and he lay down on the couch. Sydney placed a pillow under his head, and draped a blanket over his body. Everything Justin had said had bounced right off of Chad. He knew it wasn't intentional, and he also knew that he was going to have to help his broken friend get his life back together.

"What did Kyla ever do to deserve to have her throat ripped out?" Chad choked out. Sydney flinched trying not to think of the horrific pain that his fiancée had endured. "What kind of psychotic asshole can do this to another person?" Tons of questions running through his head with not enough answers to satisfy him put his mind at rest. Justin sat there looking completely frustrated at the fact that he couldn't ease his buddy's suffering.

"Chad, maybe you'd feel better if you ate something," Sydney said worriedly. She started to pick up a sandwich and hand it to him. Chad just groaned and looked at her in amazement.

"Why? So I can spend twenty minutes in the bathroom again? I'm not hungry," Chad said frustrated. Sydney looked shocked at her brother's comment. "The only thing that will make me feel better is finding the bastard that did this to Kyla." He rolled over face first into the pillow and started crying again. "Why her? Why?" Chad paused and then he whispered, "It's not fair."

"Chad, the cops are trying to do everything they can, I mean this is the biggest thing to hit Three Lakes since the tornadoes of 1991. The cops have made this case their first priority. We'll catch that bastard if it's the last thing we do," Justin said, trying to be confident. Although he was trying to be strong for Chad, deep down inside he had this unshakable feeling that the sick individual that did this was never going to be caught. Chad's breathing became more regular, and he rolled over once more and sighed "Thank you guys," before drifting into a deep sleep. Sydney cleaned up the uneaten sandwiches and tried to keep herself busy. Justin stayed in the room with his friend, making sure he was okay and still breathing. Settling into the brand new, cushy, leather lazy-boy he picked up the latest edition of Sports Illustrated and attempted to read.

An hour and a half had passed and the house was extremely quiet. Justin had fallen asleep while reading. He woke up once, when Sydney had covered him up with a blanket. He looked at her and saw that her mascara had run down her cheeks, the only evidence that she had been crying. He grabbed her hand and pulled her to him. She sat on his lap with her head on his chest, and softly she began weeping. Justin ran his hand through her hair and tried comforting her, all the while fighting bitterly to keep the tears that had welled up in his eyes from falling. He rearranged the blanket over them, kissed her forehead and then they both fell asleep there.

The shrill ring of the phone broke the silence and they all were startled from their slumber. Chad was the first to the phone, his blanket still tangled around his legs. "Hello?" he said groggily. Sydney and Justin watched Chad, hoping to learn something from his facial expression. His face fell and he slowly sat back down on the couch. "Yeah officer, I don't understa…" He struggled to talk without his emotion interfering. "I will," he said and then hung up.

Sydney and Justin looked at him, Sydney asked, "What was that about?"

Chad in a dazed voice replied, "Dogs."

As dusk settled on the forest, the sounds of daily life started to cease, and the sounds of the night became more prominent. He walked around the small opening to the cave, listening to the whimpering and growling animals inside. He moved the brush aside revealing a metal chain-linked fence. Two sets of glowing amber eyes were visible in the dark pit. All of a sudden one of the animals jumped at the fence; it gave a little under the weight, but it didn't break. Startled, their master fell backwards, tripping over his own feet. Rage filled his body; he unlocked the gate and walked in. When the dog jumped at him again, he punched it in the ribs. The dog yelped and hit the ground with a hard thud. It put its stub of a tail between its legs and retreated into a corner, where his brother sat in fear of its owner.

"Hungry, boys?" the man asked quietly. The dogs looked at him in curiosity, their ears perked up, and put their noses in the air, as if they sensed the coming evil. The man turned and walked out of the cage, careful to shut the door, so his pets wouldn't escape. He walked around the cave to the brush where he had stored the freshly killed deer he had shot during his afternoon hunt. He grasped the dead animal by its hindquarters and dragged it around to the entrance of the cave. He reached into the right pocket of his dirty bloodstained pants, retrieved the hunting knife, and he sliced the deer's belly open. He pulled the 6-inch blade from the stomach of the animal. He held it, wet with blood, in front of him and watched how the metal shined in the dimming sunlight. Steam rose from the wound and clouded the cooling night air. Knowing the animal was still warm, he put his hand in the open belly and with the aid of his knife he cut out a chunk of meat. The red blood covered his hand and it trickled down his arm; he ignored it and walked over to the fence where he saw the dogs were already pacing in anticipation. He opened the fence and threw the first chunk in. He heard the dogs fight over it, and he went and cut out another chunk of meat from the deer. He did this for about an hour, and when he thought the dogs couldn't eat anymore, he stopped. The man took hold of the deer carcass by its legs, and dragged it to a pit, where he set it on fire. After all, it was a nuisance to try to keep that much meat fresh. He'd just kill another one tomorrow. "Population control," that's how he justified it. He watched the carcass burn, smiling to himself. Now that that bitch Kyla was gone, he could put the second part of his plan into action. The flame light flickering across his face, he inspected his hand. The blood was still warm and sticky; he brought it to his face and slowly started to lick the blood from his fingers, laughing quietly to himself.

Their feet pounded hard on the asphalt trail. This popular running trail wound for miles through the beautiful state park of Three Lakes. Even though Chad loved to run he was beginning to think the trail would never end. It had been three weeks since Kyla's funeral and horrible pictures still haunted him every time he closed his eyes.

Their breathing took on a rhythmic quality as they continued to jog on Kyla's favorite running trail. They were running the trail in tribute to Kyla's memory and both Chad's doctor and Sydney thought it would help speed up the healing process. Sydney had hoped that the beauty of the forest would take his mind off of the events of the last week. However, for Chad the forest was only a mass of blurred browns and greens. He didn't have time to contemplate the wonderful array of colors before him; his mind was on other things.

The fact that he was wearing headphones only gave his sister the illusion that he was concentrating on something else while he ran. Sydney had given him a motivational tape that was supposed to make him feel better. Chad accepted the gift graciously, although he thought it was bullshit, and pretended to listen to it to make her feel better.

It had been a while since he had received the horrible phone call, which revealed the horrors of Kyla's death, but along with the visions he couldn't get that phone call to stop replaying in his head. The cops told him that wild dogs had chased her down, and that those animals were ultimately responsible for her death. They said the contusions and internal bleeding they had found came from multiple falls that must have occurred while she was running away from the animals. Chad knew if those were the conclusions they had come to, they must be true. But no matter what conclusion he came to about Kyla's death, it just didn't sit right. There was just something about the fractures in her shoulder blades; they all couldn't have come from falling, could they?

Fatigue had started to settle in on his limbs, making him feel like he was carrying the weight of ten men instead of just his. He didn't remember the last time he had gotten a good night's sleep. He didn't know how he could make the visions and the never-ending strain of thoughts stop long enough so he could get more than an hour of sleep at a time. The doctor had given him pills, but Chad, who was extremely paranoid, refused to take them. His pace slowed considerably, and he came to a complete halt. Breathing more labouredly, Chad rested his hands on his knees and tried to slow his heart rate to a reasonable pace.

As he was resting he finally stopped to take a look at his surroundings. The forest was a perfect mixture of coniferous and deciduous trees. Small birch trees protruded from the ground, shaded by massive oak trees. Dead leaves from last fall mixed with moss covered the moist ground. The birds chirped as they went about their daily work, everything seemed so peaceful. "How could such a tragic event happen here?" Chad thought. His breathing slowed back to normal and with a clammy hand he wiped the sweat from his brow.

Sydney came up beside him and panting she asked, "Are you okay?" He looked at her. She had sweat dripping down the side of her face and a worried expression crossed it. Chad shook his head and tears blurred his vision. He looked like hell; his eyes were clouded over and dark circles engulfed them. Plus he hadn't shaved in a couple of days, giving him a dark shadow of stubble that crossed his face.

"I'm fine," he said looking at the path. "We're not done yet, let's keep going." He nodded his head in the general direction of their destination. He wanted to start running again so Sydney wouldn't nag him about not getting enough sleep. Her brown eyes bored into him, and then a worried expression crossed her face.

"Did you sleep at all last night?" she asked.

"Sydney, I'm fine, let's go." Chad gave her a look that told her she shouldn't press the matter. Then he started pacing, glancing nervously at the woods. He couldn't describe it, but there was electricity in the air that had put his senses on edge. He felt like he was being watched, and a deep sense of paranoia seeped into the very core of him.

"You should be taking the medicine Dr. Wilson prescribed for you. You'll have more energy and you won't look like death swarmed over you." Sydney frowned still looking at her brother. "What's wrong?" Sydney said, puzzled by her brother's erratic actions. He was now looking at the woods with wide eyes filled with terror.

"Somebody's watching us," he whispered. The color from running had drained from his face, and his eyes never stopped searching the woods. He started to tremble, just enough so that it was noticeable. Sydney was worried that her brother was going to suffer from a breakdown right there. Slowly, she walked over to Chad and put her arm around him.

"This is why I think you should start taking those pills. Your practically running on empty for sleep, and it's clouding your senses. Chad, you're getting almost delusional." Sydney frowned and Chad met her gaze.

"All right," he said. "After we run, I'll go home and take those pills. But if I don't wake up for three days it's your fault," he finished and then attempted to smile.

"Okay, I'll take the blame for it. But you can't deny the fact that those three days of sleep will be much needed." She laughed, playfully shoved him in the shoulder and took off running.

"Hey!" he blurted out and then he proceeded to run after her. He caught up with her in no time at all and then tried to run her off the path. She acted offended and the mini-war continued for a few minutes before they both settled into their normal running patterns. As they ran away, Chad felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up, and he just couldn't shake the feeling that he was being watched. "God I am losing it," he thought and he shook his head and pressed the play button on the Walkman. A warm voice filled his ears with motivational quotes and ideas, and for a moment he forgot everything.
 

She moved through the woods quietly, careful not to reveal her hiding spot to them, as she watched Sydney and Chad play-fight with each other. "How cute, they're bonding," she thought. She looked over her shoulders at the dogs that were lazily laying in the shade of an ancient oak tree. The dogs looked at her as if they were trying to zone in on her brain waves, and then rolled over and went back to sleep. "The dogs better rest up, we have work to do tonight," she thought. As she looked back at the two running down the path, she sat down on a moss-covered boulder and pulled out her hunting knife. She removed the leather sheath that had the letters N.A.T. imprinted on it. Using the blade she slowly started to trace the lines on her palm while red droplets beaded at the surface of her hand until it looked like it was covered in a bloody spider web. She closed her eyes and she remembered the exact day she got the sheath and knife set.

Nat and four of her buddies had just finished their most successful hunting trip ever and to celebrate they had cooked some of the meat from the deer they had shot. The dining room was one of the larger rooms inside the hunting lodge. It also had a medium sized kitchen, six bedrooms including a master bedroom, a rather large living room and two big bathrooms. The lodge was built entirely out of logs, and on the inside it was finished with red oak. The dining room was incredible. Heads of deer adorned all the walls looking directly at the large rectangular table in the center. The group was feasting hungrily, when Chad stood up clanking a knife against his glass.

"I would like to make a toast," Chad made a dramatic pause and continued, " As we all know, Nat did kill her quota of deer for this trip before anyone else. So Nat in honor of you, all the boys pitched in and we bought you this." Chad finished, he motioned for her to come up to the head of the table. Confidently, she got up and walked to the front of the room. Chad put his arm around her and handed her the small package. She smiled and unwrapped the gift. An expression of shock crossed her face as a she looked at the gift. A beautiful leather sheath covered a brand new hunting blade.

"Thank you" she uttered

" So you like it?" Chad inquired.

" Yea guys this is awesome" She looked at her buddies in awe. Chad raised his Bud Light and all the others raised theirs and then he finished the toast.

"To Nat, The Best Man on our hunting team!" The guys cheered in response and then they all took gulps of their beer. Nat smiled, but couldn't believe Chad had just called her a Man. Hurt and rage welled up inside of her, "Why couldn't they just once think of her as a girl?" She masked her feelings and finished celebrating with her buddies.

Nat shook her head and a small tear rolled down her cheek. "That bastard was going to pay." She looked back at the path and noticed the two were long gone. "Sydney's next."
 

Chad had gotten back home at around noon. After eating lunch with his sister and convincing her that he would take those pills, she left. It had been a long day, getting up at nine, running from ten to eleven, and now Chad was exhausted. He lazily walked up the stairs to his room and stripped out of his running clothes. He felt gross and before he could sleep he knew he had to wash the sweat off his body. Chad turned the shower on and waited till he saw steam pour out from behind the shower curtain. He stepped in and let the scalding water beat away the stench of his own body and the aches from running. As he washed his body thoughts of Kyla invaded his mind. He missed the way she would sneak into the shower with him and lather the soap all over his body. Their showers would always start off as something playful, and somehow they would end up in his room making love. "God, I miss her." He thought. He shut the shower off, and leaned against the tiles. Chad reached for his towel and dried off. He walked out of the bathroom and lumbered down the hallway to his bedroom. "Thank god Justin had left town for a couple of days. I just want to be alone." He pulled on a pair of boxers and then a pair of flannel pants. He saw his sister had set a couple of pills, plus a full glass of water on his nightstand. Underneath the glass his sister had left a note

I knew you wouldn't take this unless I left it out for you. Have a good rest.

Love,

Sydney
 

Chad shook his head. She was supposed to be younger than him, yet she acted like his mother. He popped the two pills in his mouth and washed it down with a big gulp of water. He sat the glass back down on the nightstand and fell into his unmade bed.

He rolled over and wrapped his arms around one of his pillows. It definitely wasn't Kyla, but for know it filled the empty void in his arms. He yawned and when his eyelids became to heavy to keep open, he settled into a deep sleep.
 
 
 

Bang! The gun shattered the afternoon air. An animal-like sound vibrated through the air, and then he was running. Something went wrong, deer don't make that sound, he thought. Branches whipped at his face and tugged at his hunting gear; he didn't stop though, he had to know what he'd just shot. Fear welling up from the very depths of him started to overcome his body. He couldn't breathe. His boot got tangled up in a sapling and he fell face first into the mud. "Umph!" he cried out. Pain shot up his left elbow as he tried to wipe the combination of dirt and tears from his face. His other hand had landed in something warm. Once his vision had cleared he saw it. His hand had landed in a puddle of thick crimson goo, which covered the dry autumn leaves that blanketed the ground. Bile threatened to edge up out of his throat, he quickly swallowed, pushing it back down for now. He pushed himself up to his feet and prayed to god it was an animal he had shot. He pushed the brush out of his way and screamed in terror at what he saw. A girl. Her mouth frozen in an "O" of horror, her face milky white from blood loss, giving her the appearance of a ghost. It was Natalie. Oh God. He looked down at the body and saw where he had shot her. The slug had ripped a hole in her throat and she had to have died instantly. We're only 17 this can't happen to us. He fought the urge to vomit, and turned to leave, to get the hell away from there. He looked at her one last time and the body shot up, grabbing him by the throat, determined to strangle the life out of him.
 
 
 

"Aaagh!" Chad sat straight up in bed; his pulse was racing a mile a minute. Drenched in his own sweat he shivered from the cool breeze of the night air. "Dammit, I left the window open." As he got out of bed his sheets clung to him, almost causing him to trip and fall. He walked over to the window and shut it. Hugging himself, he attempted to warm up and plopped right back in bed. His head hit the fluffy down of the pillow and a thought raced across his mind. "Was it a dream?" It had to be. Dead bodies just don't go around trying to kill people.

He had been having this same damn dream since he was 17. "It was a dream; it's always been a dream. Natalie ran away on our hunting trip." Chad told himself. Shaking he reached for his comforter and wrapped himself in it. He put his head in his hands trying to clear the horrible image of his nightmare. "It was a dream, it was a dream, it was a dream!" He repeated to himself. Now he wasn't so sure.
 

Then the realization hit him: it wasn't a dream. Sure, the dead body didn't try to kill him, but he had left Natalie dead in the woods that day, and there was no way he could escape that. He also left her dogs there. Tied to the tree, the two of them had watched him with accusing eyes while he buried the body. "Oh God, Natalie, I'm sorry." He had done everything he could to suppress that memory. The town was in an uproar about the missing girl, and he had convinced himself that he didn't do it and that she had run away during their annual deer -hunting trip. He told himself this so many times, he had started to believe it, and soon the accident never happened.

Chad cried out, and he rolled over looking at the clock. "Those damn pills, if I wouldn't have taken them, I would've never remembered this." The clock flashed in neon green letters, 3:05 a.m. He shook his head groggily, wondering how in the hell he had slept since two that afternoon. "Sydney, I have to call her." He reached for the phone and looked at the numbers, impatiently waiting for them to come into focus. His hand started to shake as an uneasy feeling gripped his stomach. When the numbers came into focus, he quickly punched in Sydney's number. It connected, but nobody answered the phone. Again he tried, and again he ended up with the same frustrating results.

He threw the phone onto the bed and headed to the bathroom. He turned the faucet on and soon he had a sink full of luke warm water. Chad dipped his hands in the water and splashed it onto his face. He tried to think rationally, he didn't want his imagination to get the best of him. Pretty soon the water had started to drip down the sides of the sink, and the front of his shirt was soaked with water. He didn't realize he was being so vigorous while washing his face. He reached for the towel rack next to the sink and grabbed the plush blue towel from its hanging spot. He wiped his face and then looked at the mirror.

The thumping of his heart stopped, as he saw the image of what was in the mirror. There was Sydney tied to a chair, and standing next to her with a metal rod was Natalie. He watched in horror as he saw Natalie raise the rod and smack it across Sydney's back. Sydney's screams of pain suddenly became audible, and Chad jumped back in fright. Not trusting his eyes he turned around and looked behind him. There was nothing there. Shaking his head he turned to look back in the mirror and once again the vision appeared. He jumped back and his feet landed in a puddle of water on the floor. As his feet slipped out from underneath him, his hands flew out to brace his fall.

He heard what he thought sounded like a crack and felt the burning sensation in his wrist that came directly after the fall. He whimpered in pain, but was relieved to find out he could still rotate his wrist. Using his arms he pushed himself too his feet, and pain shot through his arm. "Damn that hurt likes a bitch!" Chad exclaimed. "Sydney's in trouble. Hurry or the other most important woman might be erased from your life forever."

The thought terrified him; he grabbed the pile of clothes that were lying next to his bed and struggled to put them on. His efforts were continuously punished by a never-ending, throbbing pain in his left arm. When he pulled the sweatshirt over his head he was overcome by the smell of his own sweat; repulsed he almost gagged. They were the very same clothes he had been running in this afternoon. He didn't have time to think of that now. He grabbed the phone with his uninjured arm and punched in the number for 911.

"Hello, 911 dispatch, what's the problem, sir?" a woman asked.

"Yea, my sister, she's just been kidnapped," he said in a rushed voice. He was crawling on the floor frantically searching for his sneakers.

"Sir, what time did you notice your sister missing?" the woman inquired.

"About twenty minutes ago, but that's not important, I know who took her. She's in the woods off the main running trail, and she'll die if you don't send someone out there quick," he said, pulling his sneakers on. Sweat started to drip down his face when they lady replied, "Sir, how do you know this?"

"There was a hunting accident, several years ago… I don't think the girl died. She killed my fiancée and now she is going to kill my sister!" He was yelling now, hurriedly making his way with the cordless phone downstairs to the entranceway. Was he not speaking English? The woman obviously didn't understand what he was trying to tell her, and know he was thoroughly frustrated.

"Sir, you're not making any sense, please try to calm down," the woman said soothingly.

"You're not getting it." His voice contorted with rage, giving it a slightly higher pitch. "Natalie Banks has got my sister and she is going to kill her! Forget it, since you obviously don't care, I'll go save her myself." With that he dropped the phone and ran out the front door, without tying his shoes and leaving the front door wide open.

"Sir?" the woman paused, "Sir?" She waited for the response that she knew wasn't coming. The phone sat on the entryway floor, the numbers glowing neon in the darkness of the house.
 
 
 
 
 

Sydney's head throbbed; she wasn't even sure as to how she got there. All she knew was she was tied to a chair with ropes that were so ungodly tight that they were biting into her wrists. She thought of Justin and how he had left to go on a trip because of a family emergency. "What horrible timing," she thought. "I may never get to see him again." This thought pained her and a small sob escaped her lips.

She opened her eyes, and looked at her surroundings. The dirt walls surrounded her on three sides, and a crude chain linked fence made up the fourth. The ceiling hung low, too low, and the smell of dog feces invaded her nostrils, leading her to believe that this was some sort of kennel. The only light that invaded this room was coming from the stars in the night sky. However she was all the way in the back of the cave, so she couldn't even see the sky.

Tears welled in her eyes threatening to fall. The pain she had endured the past few hours was almost unbearable.

"I wonder if this is what Kyla went through." She didn't even want to imagine it, but Sydney heard the dogs returning and the feeling of despair made her shake uncontrollably. "Please Chad, wake up and notice I'm missing, Please!" She kicked herself now, wishing she had never made him take those pills, because by the time he wakes from his slumber it will probably be too late.

The chain linked fence opened and she entered. Natalie Banks, the biggest tomboy at Three Lakes High. She was often mistaken as a boy, because of the oversize clothes she wore to fit her boy-like build, and the shag cut her hair was always in. Although boys often shunned her in high school, they all envied her hunting abilities and because of this she never once had lost hope.

Sydney knew her brother and a couple other guys often went hunting with her. Just one of the guys, is how they thought of her. The guys even started calling her Nat, and referring to her as a he. All fun and games is what the guys had said. However from the crazed look in Natalie's eyes she didn't think it was so funny. She was always nice to everybody, no matter what, but there was no evidence of that same disposition now. Natalie wanted revenge.

Her face had a wild, crazed look that struck chills into Sydney. That was not as horrifying as her eyes. Where once pretty brown eyes sat, were now soulless black pits. Unfeeling, uncaring eyes that made her as dangerous as they come. Sydney knew Natalie was dead though, the gaping hole in her neck had told her that. As if Natalie could hear her thoughts, she said. "That's why I let the dogs rip the throat out of Kyla, because that's what your brother did to me."

"My brother didn't do that," Sydney's lip quivered as she talked.

"Oh, you're so naive!" the ghost screamed. They ceiling of the cave shook and Sydney began to wonder what her odds of escaping this ghost's wrath were. "It doesn't matter though," the ghost said. She walked back out of the gate and returned with her hunting dogs. The dogs coward away from her as though they thought they would be hurt.

"See, thankfully your brother left me a tool for my revenge." As she said this she kicked a foot in the direction of the dogs, and one of snapped at it in defense. A smile crossed Natalie's face and then she laughed, a sound that was purely evil. "I can't do this by myself you know. I only have power enough to inflict pain on living individuals."

She looked at Sydney and saw the terror mixed with hatred in her face. Natalie laughed, "Your brother killed me, but he left my dogs you see, and they are what carries my anger to kill. I could never do it without the aid of them." Natalie glanced back at Sydney and was furious to see all emotion drain from Sydney's face. "I'll be damned if she sees me scared." Thought Sydney.

"You bore me!" Natalie yelled. The sound of her voice echoed off the walls of the small enclosure, making Sydney shudder. "It's time to go hunting." Natalie got up from her spot with the dogs and walked over to Sydney. She pulled her hunting knife from her pocket and brought it up fast, slicing the ropes from her bound hands. Sydney cringed and Natalie laughed at her. "So you are scared? Good, because your going to end up like Kyla in about an hour."

Natalie came close to her face breathing on Sydney's cheek. "You have a twenty minute head start before I release the dogs, GO!" she screamed, and with that Sydney was out the opening of the cave. Natalie turned back to her dogs, and began to talk to them in an inhuman voice. She grabbed the metal rod and stated swinging it at them. They snapped and growled at her, saliva dripping from their jaws. Natalie continued to swing at them and with every swing the dogs' eyes became a darker shade of glowing amber.
 
 
 
 
 

Sydney knew her chances of escaping the dogs were nil, that's why when she had felt she could run no more she climbed up into a tree, with her remaining energy. She had run a good mile from that horrible torture chamber, and she knew she was too deep into the woods to be anywhere close to the running trail. There was no time to be scared, no time to sit down and feel sorry for herself, only time to plan.

While she was nestled in the biggest branch of the tree, she took the pocketknife Chad had given her and began to whittle spears out of good-sized branches she had cut off the bigger limb. She was going to kill those damn dogs. Fifteen minutes had past, and she gripping to the bark of the tree slowly lowered herself down. As her feet came into contact with the mossy earth, she heard the baying from the dogs and a haunting laughter followed.

Sydney raised a hand to her throat, and then as her pulse picked up speed she began to run through the forest. "Help! I need to find help!" The thought screamed through her and it played like a broken record in her head drowning all other sound out. Thoughts of those inhumane beasts ripping her throat out, kept her running in terror.

She ran scrambling over the obstacle course of the forest. Broken limbs and unearthed rocks constantly tripped her up, making her progress through the forest awkward and clumsy. While she ran branches of saplings whipped at her face. A small branch smacked her in the eye, causing her vision to blur. She continued to run.

"Sydney!" Chad's voice echoed through the forest and broke through her thoughts. A feeling of joy tried to creep it's way into her emotions, but there was still too much fear. She continued to run, her heart racing and her lungs burning from lack of oxygen.

She wasn't paying to much attention to where she was going, because she tripped over a branch lying in her way. Sydney's battered body hit the ground hard, knocking the wind out of her. Silently Sydney swore to herself and she glanced at the obstacle. She shook her head and looked at the branch long enough to see there was a piece of rope in the shape of the noose attached to it.

When she looked up the first dog was upon her and she quickly curled into the fetal position to protect her throat. When she folded in on herself, the dog lunged at her missing its target. The canines' teeth sunk, deep into her fleshy shoulder. Sydney cried out, she twisted out of the dogs grasp and her foot came up fast, kicking the animal in the head. It yelped in pain, and with its eyes glowing red, it lunged at her again. Sydney reached for the spears that had flown out of her hands when she fell. While she reached for the spear the dogs' teeth sunk deep into her calf muscle. Sydney let out a yell in rage, and in one swift motion she drove a spear into the vulnerable curve of the dogs neck.

The dog whimpered, and a gurgling sound edged up from it's punctured throat. Then the animal collapsed at Sydney's feet. She glanced up to see a puddle of thick red liquid form underneath the dying animal. The dog snapped at her in one last effort and then it's head fell to the ground. Sydney watched as the glowing faded from the dogs' eyes. She saw the blood running down the animals' side, and almost felt sorry for the animal as it died. "Where is the other dog?" Sydney thought suddenly panicked.

She leaned her head back, struggling to take in enough oxygen. Her rigid muscles started to relax as she heard her brother called out for her again. Almost as suddenly, Natalie was crowding over her. She had grabbed Sydney by the throat and had started to choke her.

Nat knew she wasn't able to kill Sydney. However, she put all her effort into draining Sydney's will to live out of her. Sydney, too fatigued to fight back, closed her eyes and waited for the tightening grip around her throat to cease. She thought of Justin and his smiling face, and saw her brother once again mourning over another loss.

"Natalie stop!" a voice yelled and suddenly a shrill yelp broke through the deafening roar that had filled Sydney's ears. The pressure had lifted from Sydney's throat and she rolled over and started coughing. She heard the whimpering of another dog, and knew that the last of Natalie's animals was about to die. Struggling for breath, Sydney's vision slowly cleared and she saw Natalie whimpering over her bloodied animals. Sydney watched as the ghost took the two animals in her arms. Sydney heard Natalie repeating the same phrase over and over again and she knew those words would haunt her for life.

"He didn't respect me in life, he didn't respect me in death. He didn't respect me in life, he didn't respect me in death." Sydney watched in disbelief as the three figures slowly started to fade from her vision, and when they were gone she collapsed. She heard the pounding of footsteps and soon Chad was beside her.

"Sydney, are you okay?" Chad asked cradling his sister's head in his arms. Sydney looked at her brother and saw that his arms were covered in blood and he had a gash in his forehead.

"Oh, What happened?" she whispered still somewhat out of breath. Fairly delusional Sydney cried out "Watch out, there is another dog out there!" Her body jerked in a violent motion to escape the dog she thought she saw, and then she collapsed weeping

"Sydney, I killed the other dog. Don't worry. They're gone. We're safe," Chad said soothingly. He pulled a couple twigs out of her hair and then tried to get her to stop crying.

" Natalie…the dogs. She said it was you fault. She killed Kyla…." She broke off and she started to convulse with sobs.

"I know, I know," Chad said. "It's true, all of it. I told the cops everything, Natalie's gone for good now. We're gonna be okay," Chad said. Soon the cops were all over the area, blocking it off with yellow crime scene tape, and Sydney was put on a stretcher and taken to the hospital for evaluation. The sounds of birds and Chad's voice filled her ears before she blacked out.

A few hours later, Natalie's decomposed body was found in Northern Wisconsin, a few miles away from Chad's fathers' hunting lodge.



Acknowledgments: To Marlo Tranholm and Jeff Yanecek, you guys are the greatest. Thank you for all the late nights you spent helping me proofread this story, and helping me reword my sentences until they made sense. I would also like to thank Marlo for giving me unlimited access to her computer. If not for her generosity I'm not sure if I would have been able to put this much effort into my story. Finally, I would like to say thanks to my J-term class, and my Professor Terry Heller for catching the little mistakes, that would have otherwise gone unnoticed.

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