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In the darkness, shivering, she ran.
--someone let the baby out someone let the baby out someone let the baby out someone--
She burst through clawed tree branches, her body wracked and sweating, her bare feet raw and bleeding from the frozen earth. Her heartbeat pulsed just beneath the surface of her face; her throat burned with each wheezing breath. And for a moment she thought she would faint. Around her, the darkness became blindness ... and the floating orb of the moon, wide and faceless beyond the sprawling canopy of bare trees, blurred and smeared, doubled, trebled, augmented to a greasy horizontal smudge. Only now, thrust into a wooded clearing, was she able to pause and catch her breath, and to wipe her eyes. Runaway rears had frozen the sides of her face, her temples.
She heard a branch snap behind her. Uttered a breathless scream. Turning, she could see nothing, and could only feel her pulse throbbing inside her head and through her arms and legs, rushing the blood, warfare-like, through her body. Was she breathing? She couldn't breathe. Was she dreaming? She couldn't tell for certain...
Another cracking branch, like bone: closer.
Something shifted in the darkness ahead of her. Its proximity paralyzed her.
Pressing her eyes tight, she willed herself away from this place, turning, turning, and called out for her sister, her sister, her--
She could hear him breathing--too close now.
She turned to run, her eyes still shut tight, the fingerlike tree limbs probing and cutting and clawing at her. Her mind summoned images of running brookwater, of forested hillsides crested with snow ... of the shape, shifting, materializing, fiendishly childlike ... of her sister warning her to write it down, write it down, and not to forget it, any of it...
Her legs pumping, she ran. Her heart nearly bursting through her chest, she ran, and she found she could not stop, and though she was running, she was not going anywhere. She was running underwater; she was running in a dream.
And she awoke. And she opened her eyes. And she was there, in bed, safe, warm. But afraid.
Because you are here. Because you are right here.
And she was.
And she was.
She screamed. She could not will herself back to bed, could not pull her solid form from this black woods and tuck herself back, back ... could not force herself to believe she was not here.
A frozen hand fell on the back of her neck. She stumbled and fell face first to the forest floor. The side of her head struck something hard and unforgiving, and her vision briefly flickered. She dug her fingers into the soil but could not rise, could not move. Behind her, someone shifted, moved. She could hear breathing aside from her own.
"No," she whispered. It took all her remaining strength just to get it out. "No ... please..."
"Please," a voice hissed from behind her. Very close.
"Please," she managed again, breaking the word into hitching sobs just before the tears came. She could not think, could not move, and she felt herself falling deeper and deeper inside her own head: here, in my bed, in my room, safe, warm, here, here, here here here here, please God put me back in my room and not here here here--
The shape moved around her. She could hear footsteps crunching the dead, frost-covered leaves. And before her mind shut down, she was vaguely aware of long, icy fingers brushing back her sweaty hair.
"Pretty," said the voice.