It's been about two hours since you've seen another runner, or any other human for that matter. You knew you weren't much ugood at this cross country thing, no matter your father's insistence that you "Win Win WIN!"
You didn't think you were such a talentless runner, though, that you'd be unable to finish a 5k in under ninety minutes. Yet here you are, walking what you thought was the Chicot Trail. You're not walking a trail though.
You're lost in the woods.
The cotton singlet and nylon running shorts you're wearing do little to protect you from the myriad mosquitos that swarm around you like a flock of tiny, buzzing vultures. They sting as they bite you all over: on your face, arms, legs, and even through your clothes.
The constant buzz and nagging bites worsen tenfold if you stop - a moving target is harder to hit even for bugs, you suppose. So you don't stop; you keep moving in a direction that you hope leads you back to a parking lot or a road or some sign of civilization, but which you fear leads you ever deeper into the steadily darkening forest.
You reach the crest of a small hill and stop dead in your tracks - two more steps would have sent you careening over a steep break in the soil and onto a jagged deadfall of felled trees.
A sharp, mocking cackle behind you causes you to whirl on your heels. The high-pitched, cawing sends a chill up your spine. Your eyes dart from tree to tree hoping to discover the source of the laugh as a sick bird, but you find no such relief.
The snapping of twigs nearby startles you and you instinctively take a couple steps back in shrinking fear. You feel the soil under your feet crumble and slip away, then you are falling, then everything is black.
When you awaken on the deadfall, the last of the gray light of twilight is fading. A sharp throb shoots up from your ankle. You look down at your feet - a pointed protrusion tries its best to punch through your white tube sock, which is now stained red with blood. No getting around it: your ankle is broken. You won't be walking anywhere. Someone will have to come find you.
You look up and see the short cliff you fell off of. Your vision is still blurry, but there seems to be a face surrounded by dark hair peering over the edge, staring down at you. You rub your eyes to regain your focus and open them once more - the face is gone.
"Hello?" you call.
A scratchy voice calls back to you, seemingly from some distance. "Heeellllloooooo..." The word is long and drawn out, almost mournful, like the person saying it hasn't tasted the greeting in a long time, and is savoring the passage of language over its tongue, yearning to connect the random assemblage of sounds again with meaning.
"I need help!" you cry. "Please!"
There is a short pause before the voice responds to you once more. This time the voice is no longer drawn out - it is purposeful and deliberate. "I...need." It is also no longer distant.
Holy shit, you think. You struggle against the limbs and branches beneath you, but even if you could get to your feet, you know you couldn't walk out of this.
The deadfall creaks and cracks under the weight of something else behind you. The steady, rhythmic disturbances in the pile betray a slow walk up the logs towards you. The sharp, mocking cackle that got you into this mess returns, but now sounds only a few yards away.
You try to swing your head around to see what's sneaking up on you, but a large log blocks your view.
The steady footfalls grow ever louder. It is coming. It is close.
"Stay away!" the scream.
The cackle answers you at first, then, as the branches behind your head begin to part, "Stay."