THE GREAT ESCAPE
Chapter 3. Richard D Andrews.
It was dark, a half-moon the only source of light. Eleanor lifted her head. She wasn’t lying on the forest floor as she had expected to be.
It was white, misty white. Whips of smoke curled around her ankles as she raised herself to her feet. She wasn’t wearing what she had on a moment ago—she was in a long, flowing white dress. Shocked for a moment, she wondered if she was either dead or had just woken from a bad dream. Maybe Rowan was right; maybe she was losing her mind. Where was this, and how did she get here? Eleanor spun round when she heard a sound behind her. Rowan! He appeared busy with something; she peered at him.
‘Rowan?’ she called hesitantly.
Rowan didn’t respond. Either he was his normal obnoxious self, like when Elizabeth wasn’t around, or he couldn’t hear her.
She moved closer and waved her hand in front of his face. Or, maybe, couldn’t see her?
Eleanor stood back, watching as he stuffed something under her bedcovers.
‘A cat!’ She brought her hands to her mouth, trying to muffle her words before she remembered it didn’t matter—he wouldn’t hear.
‘What are you doing, Rowan?’ she murmured.
Rowan went to her kitchen, scurrying around and moving things. He closed the oven door on some wine glasses, then picked up her reading glasses from the side, dropping them into the toolbox she’d left at the end of the countertop. Then he fiddled with a paper he pulled from his pocket. Its design was familiar to her, but she couldn’t place why.She blinked, then Rowan and her house vanished.Only the swirling white mist remained as she, turned her head, expecting him to appear again.
‘This, this was all him. He did this to me.’ She paused, closing her eyes, half with relief that she wasn’t actually losing her mind, half with fury at what she’d discovered
She pondered again exactly where she was. Was she dreaming, or heaven forbid . . . dead? Was this heaven? Her confusion was interrupted when she became aware of a falling sensation as the white mists swirled again, a dark, cold gloom rising from her feet and pushing it away.
Eleanor hit the ground with a thud, as though she was falling in a dream, and her body jolted. She couldn’t work out how long she’d been out for, but she must have knocked her head as she hit the forest floor. As she blinked again, her senses slowly came back, and her vision cleared. She sat up slightly from the damp forest floor—it was so dark after the brightness of the room she had seen Rowan in. She rubbed her forehead. Yes, she’d definitely hit it on the way down.
She was groggy and sick but mostly confused. How had she seen Rowan, and why had he been doing all those things that she’d always assumed she’d done herself? Even though she’d argued with Elizabeth that she wasn’t losing her sanity, Eleanor did, at the back of her mind, think that just maybe, she might have been losing it a little.
No. None of this had been her—it had been Rowan all along. She wondered about the paper she’d seen him with, the design, the pattern on it. It was old, and something about it was familiar, but she couldn’t place why.
Loud barking approached, The dogs!
She twisted round, and there was a twinge in her ankle as she surveyed the forest. Reaching down, she rubbed it. It was a slight twist—nothing major, but she definitely wouldn’t be using the pedals in that darn car anytime soon. There was a snap of a branch from somewhere left of her. She squinted, still trying to adjust to the blackness.
‘Eleanor, get up! Run,’ came the voice again. She glanced around unsteadily to find where it came from.
She winced as she lifted herself off the floor, carefully putting her weight onto her ankle. It could hold her. That was a good start, at least. Where the Dryad had appeared, the oak tree now stood like any other, cold and dark in the night. She hobbled towards the car, moving slower than necessary, not wanting to strain her ankle further as she walked.
She stopped just short of the car where it sat in a slight dip in the landscape, lights on, engine gently idling. Its interior light and the headlights threw small circles of light near the car. It was then she saw them, tracks in the ground like something had been pacing round and round it.
Eleanor paused for a moment, thoughts drifting back to the white mist-illed room. She clenched her fists as she remembered what Rowan had been up to. Her entire body tensed, fingers digging deeper into her palms.
Why had he tried to make her look senile? If he’d been genuinely worried about her and wanted her cared for somewhere else, surely he didn’t have to make her out to be crazy. He could have asked or just explained.
Her vision blurred as tears pooled in her eyes. She felt betrayed; she felt betrayed for Elizabeth. Surely, she didn’t know what Rowan was up to? As she stood, the anger in her grew, and tears rolled down her cheeks,
Harsh breathing came from behind her.
She turned, just able to make out the shape of an animal, four legs, panting, maybe six or seven feet away. Its outline looked like that of a large, indeed very large, dog, its fur matted and rough. As it snarled, its white fangs glinted in the moonlight. The beast stood on a small hill, giving it the higher ground.
Eleanor backed away towards the car. If she could get into it, at least it would give her some protection. The dog moved slowly, following her. She shuffled slowly but deliberately, trying to avoid any other trips or falls. The dog moved confidently forwards, maintaining its distance but growling with authority as it did.
She was jarred as her back hit the car door. She glanced back, and the dog made its move. It leapt forwards, landing only a foot or two in front of her. Eleanor could smell its breath, see drool as it panted. Whatever she did now, it was too close to make a dash for it, especially with her sore ankle. She froze, a standoff between them, as the dog slowly took another step forward.
Her anger still boiled, but it felt strange. Not like she was used to. This was very different . . . like a weapon inside her. The sensation was like a bullet, ready to be loaded and fired from a gun. Her clenched fists were tingling; they were warm, almost burning, and it wasn’t arthritis this time. It was as though her hands were on fire.
Eleanor stood her ground, hands hanging by her sides, enveloped by a blue glow dripping like water. She looked up at the dog that now paced in front, keeping its eyes on her, drooling as it growled. It took another step toward her as she raised her hands up and out towards it.
The blue glow encircled her hands and upper arms while drops detached themselves from its mass and fell to the ground, sizzling as they hit the damp forest floor. She paused, wondering how she was doing this, and indeed, what she was doing. The dog took another step. She instinctively thrust her hands forward, wrists pressed together. A bolt of the blue glow shot from her hands, throwing her back against the car with unexpected force. She slumped to the ground, her back against the door. The dog yelped as it leapt to the side, narrowly avoiding the bolt of blue. It hit a tree behind the dog, shattering itself into a mist of blue and white, like water dispersing at the bottom of a waterfall.
The dog growled at Eleanor and stalked towards her. She shook her head, dazed from the shock of being propelled back, then pushed herself to her feet again. This time, she knew what she was doing. She aimed again, bringing her wrists together and planting her feet, prepared for the kickback. She lost track of how many times she shot bolts at the dog. What she remembered was the final yelp as one hit true and the explosion of glowing water against the dog’s body as it let out a chilling yelp and turned tail, scrambling into the forest behind it.
She stood panting as her hands hung at her sides, glowing water still dripping from them. As she caught her breath, she became aware of water filling the dip where she and the car now stood —it was up to her waist before she realised how strong the current was. The water swirled around her like a strong eddy, yet, except for herself, there was no source to this river.
Although Eleanor considered herself strong for her age, the water was stronger. Raising her arms above her head, she attempted to wade from the car and back up the incline where the dog had been. With each movement, it pushed her back, and the water continued to rise around her. Her eyes still streamed with tears of anger and betrayal, and she let her hands drop to the water, still glowing, lighting up the surrounding area.
‘How?’ she whispered, her lips barely moving. As the water continued to rise, her feet became trapped in the mud. Eleanor heard a rumble of thunder, and as the water swirled around her chin, she tilted her head back to savour what could be her last taste of air. She gasped, drawing in a deep breath as the water flowed over her face.
The world was oddly still under the water; the rushing surface that had enveloped her now seemed peaceful. Eleanor turned her head, hair flowing around her in the water. This couldn’t be it. This couldn’t be how it ended, drowned in a hollow in the woods with a stolen car and doubting her sanity. No, she wasn’t going like this. There were too many questions left unanswered, but the burning in her lungs as the last of her air ran out told a different story.
She tried not to panic, but as her eyes bulged, Eleanor tried to coax as much out of that last breath as she could. Her vision closed in, darkness from the edges enveloping everything in front of her.
As she closed her eyes for what she truly believed was the last time, head spinning and lungs burning, something or someone grabbed her wrist under the water.
The Great Escape, Chapter 4/9 will be published on Sunday August 15th.
Next week's Author will be Gary Brian