HER HEAD ACHED. THE COLD air wrapped around her bare skin, and the damp earth was hard against her cheek. Amber slowly opened her eyes. Was she dreaming? She thought so. The tall trees that stretched to the heavens along with the lush green vegetation seemed all too familiar. Every night, for the past few weeks, she had dreamt of this exact place.
The dream was always the same….
She was running, terrified, but from what, she never knew. The farther she ran, the more peculiar she felt. Her vision sharpened, and her sense of smell brought forward overpowering scents. Amber inhaled the sweet aroma of the flowers in the woods, and the musky odor of moss and damp tree trunks filled her nostrils, relaxing her. She was at home in this foreign place.
In one swift movement, she was running on all fours, faster than she’d ever run before. Whatever she was trying to escape was no match for her speed. A sudden movement to her right brought Amber to a halt. The heartbeat of a tiny rabbit was deafening. She could taste its warm blood before she even took a bite. The poor creature didn’t stand a chance. That’s when she realized she was not running from something but after something. With lightning speed, she grabbed the rabbit, crushing its small frame with her powerful hands. The rush of the kill empowered her….
Amber never saw further into her dreams, always jerking awake before she saw the monster she had become. She never had such vivid dreams before; she didn’t even have a vivid imagination, but since coming to CFU, nightmares were becoming more frequent.
Only now, as she lay on the ground looking up at the dark sky through the branches of the trees, she knew this was not a dream. She lay amongst the fallen leaves on the floor of the forest, confused and vulnerable. The air was thick with a fog that clung to the lower branches of the trees, and although it was cold, her body was on fire. Amber tried to sit and the stiffness from lying in one position for too long shot through her side. She stretched her body, but it didn’t help ease the pain. Amber listened, trying to hear anything, but there was nothing. The silence was frightening. She lifted a hand to her clammy forehead. The perspiration ran down her spine, and her hands were wet and sticky. Her breath came in quick gasps with a fear that rose inside her every second she sat in the dark, cold, damp forest.
Amber lifted herself slowly, testing her legs for balance. Her blue cotton pajamas were badly soiled by the thick mud that clung to them. She walked slowly, not really knowing which direction to go. She didn’t know how far into the woods she was. Should she just choose a path and hope it leads to civilization, back to campus? Her fear grew stronger, and the fuzziness in her head made it difficult to focus. Amber stumbled along, slipping over the mossy ground. As she walked, an unusual sense of familiarity welled up inside her. She continued forward, and when she caught sight of the road, not too far ahead, relief washed over her.
That is when she heard it. The long and anguished howl of a wolf pierced the silence. It sounded close, too close. Fear gripped her again. She found the strength to move a bit faster as adrenalin began pumping through her veins, and she ran toward the road. Was it her imagination or did she hear the snapping of branches behind her? She was not alone; a fierce growl confirmed that. Amber stopped in her tracks and turned slowly, staring back into the thick bushes she had emerged from, but she saw nothing. She sensed, however, that there was something watching her, and it wasn’t friendly. Goosebumps spread over her skin, and she turned to run again. The sound of something behind her forced her to quicken her pace.
Amber raced forward, and, clearing the remaining trees, made it to the road, but she tripped on the graveled path. A sudden flash of light stopped her dead in her tracks. She was blinded by a set of headlights only a short distance from her that were growing brighter with each passing moment. There was no way the person driving could stop in time. This was not the way she had imagined dying. Amber screamed and covered her face with her hands, as if that would lessen the impact of the car as it slammed into her. She waited for it to strike her. But the pain she was expecting never came. Had it happened so quickly she didn’t even feel it? Was her life over? She was still breathing, crouched on the road, her hands over her face. By some miracle, the car had stopped, only inches from her.
Amber’s breath came in quick gasps, and her lungs burned. She couldn’t get the air she needed. Tears were streaming down her face as she lay on the warm asphalt. Her mind swam, rushing through the dreams and the odd place where she mysteriously awoke. The howl she heard played over and over in her head, like an evil echo sent to torment her. Amber tried to focus, but she knew it was no use. Her breathing grew shallow, and the lack of oxygen made it hard for her to keep her eyes open. She heard someone speak—a muffled voice, but it was calling her name. She caught the hint of a southern accent but couldn’t be sure because whoever it was sounded like they were miles away. A blurry figure appeared next to her. Strong arms lifted her, then darkness took over, and she was gone.