EIGHT

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The figure slowly rose to its feet and approached her. It was tall, twice as tall as she was, but thin, with narrow shoulders. Its entire body was hidden beneath a cloak, its hood covered its face, and long sleeves covered its arms and hands.

“You look lost,” it said, in a monotonous, metallic tone.

Sammy couldn’t answer. The saliva in her mouth had turned to a sticky paste, gluing her tongue to the roof of her mouth.

“Well?” it asked. “Are you lost?”

“No, I… I’m fine. Thank you,” Sammy replied, doing her best not to stammer.

“I’m here to help you,” said the figure calmly, “and you’re lying to me!” It finished with sudden fury and took several steps closer. The heat intensified dramatically as it did so, as if it was the source of the heat. It took a few more paces and stopped.

Sammy held her hands together to stop them shaking. She shuffled one foot backwards. Should she run? Would that make it angrier?

“This forest is a dangerous place. Lots of unpleasant inhabitants,” the figure continued, calm now. “You’re alone, scared. We’d like to make your acquaintance, to help you.”

We? If its friends were anything like it was, Sammy didn’t want to make their acquaintance. Start running, she told herself. But she couldn’t.

The creature took another step closer and lunged. That was the trigger Sammy needed. She ducked under its arm just as her legs came back to life. And she ran.

A metallic scream followed Sammy into the dark alley between two houses. The sound of a knife scraped across steel that made her teeth hurt. She clapped her hands over her ears and kept going. She flew from the alley into the glittering light of the forest. She chanced a look over her shoulder to find the figure coming after her. It floated along the forest floor behind like it was on roller skates, moving without any outward appearance of effort. Its arms clenched at its sides and head slumped at its chest, like a man hanging from a noose. How could anything so horrific not mean her harm? And she’d made him angry.

Sammy kept pumping her legs. The running combined with the heat at her back was making her light-headed, but she couldn’t stop. She wasn’t getting away, but at least it wasn’t gaining. All she could do was keep going and hope the monster tired before she did.

 

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