High Dale Manor

Prologue.

As the sun dipped behind the hill, a sliver of moon could be seen rising beyond the valley. From her position amongst the solid oak trees she stopped for a moment to catch her breath, suddenly feeling the night closing in on her. She didn't usually walk through the woods after dark but she was late and this was the quickest way. The air was still and ominously quiet, considering the activities of the day. Looking up at the darkening sky she noticed the first brave stars appearing. A few more minutes and she’d reach the clearing then she could cut across the field. Rubbing at the blisters that had formed on her heels she cursed, then shoving her headphones back into her ears, she marched forwards.

After a few minutes she stopped again, she thought she’d heard something. Pulling off her headphones she listened. Yes, there it was, a cry hanging eerily in the air. As she stood stock still and waited she felt the ground tremble beneath her feet. Instinctually stepping closer to the tree beside her she put her hand onto the trunk and stood silently. The substantial tree vibrated beneath her small hand. There was another scream. A terrifying sound, the noise thick with pain, the cry echoing though the dense forest. Then silence. She held her breath, her ears straining to catch any sound, then without warning the noise changed. The scream became a wail, a high-pitched yowl as the creature choked and spluttered, the blood thick in its throat. Whatever it was, animal or human, was dying.

Suddenly, like the beginnings of an earthquake, the forest shuddered beneath her. Something was coming, she had to get out of there. Her brain told her to run back the way she’d come, but her body wouldn’t move. Her legs felt spindly and weak, barely strong enough to carry her through the trees that impeded her path. But it was headed towards her, getting closer, she was sure she couldn't outrun it. Her throat felt tight and painful, her slight body shook with fear. Looking up at the closest tree, she made a decision. Tearing off her shoes and sweaty socks, she pulled herself up onto the solid trunk. Her bare feet gripped the coarse bark as she climbed, the sharp branches scratching at her face but she kept climbing higher and higher until she could see across the open field into the distance and waited, her heart pounding.

As the moon rose above the forest she saw it. Its enormous body moving towards her, muscles taught as the powerful beast surged forward, passing beneath her and then on toward the field. When the beast reached the open space the moon’s beams spotlighted the crazed animal. Blood covered it’s pale, sinewy body, froth flew from it’s black gaping mouth. Yet as it turned she caught the look in the animal’s dark eyes and gasped. One thing was certain, the beast was not chasing something, the creature was terrified. It was running from something.

By Sarah Haaf