The same nightmare. Every night. The Chase. Just an illusion, of course. A dream. That's what I tell myself. But how come I have never feared like this? How come I have never been so cold? How come every breath in that forest feels more real than reality?

How come he keeps getting closer?


2. Day

I sat straight up in bed, soaked in sweat and shivering uncontrollably. I sunk down under the white linen sheets, taking deep, ragged breaths in an attempt to calm myself. Relax, Fran, I thought, It was just a dream. A dream. It wasn't real. A slightly pessimistic voice in the back of my head couldn't quite help but remind me that, actually, it wasn't the first time I'd had this dream. Nor was it getting any less frightening. On the contrary, the whispers had been getting colder... closer... I shuddered, fumbling for my glasses and then turning to look at the clock on my bedside table. 05:28 AM. I sighed, and clambered out of bed. Faint rays of sunlight shone through the curtains, and the distant chatter of birdsong was the only noise that broke the silence. "So quiet..." I muttered to myself, as I pulled on a jumper and a pair of wellies.

I trudged down the narrow lane, keeping left to avoid the shoulder-high nettles. The sky was a deep, rosy purple, and the sun was just coming up behind the clouds. This was definitely the best way to start the day. Probably a good way to distract myself from the memory of my dream, too.

I finally reached the clearing in the weeds and shrubs. It consisted of a small, neatly trimmed patch of grass. A tall birch tree alongside it cast a shadow over the pond in the middle, and a small, slightly derelict bench beside it. The bench creaked and groaned as I perched on it. I ignored this, and immediately stared into the murky waters of the pond. My reflection was barely visible, I had to squint to see it, even wearing my glasses. I sighed. I looked very, very tired. My hair stood up in tufts, and the rings under my eyes were more deep and dark than they had ever been. Even my ghostly pallor was unnaturally distinguishable from all the warm, muddy browns at the bottom of the pond. You have to fix this. You have to sleep. This can't possibly be healthyIt was my favorite place to think, that bench. Mostly because almost no-one ever came there. Not Mae, not Heather, not even Mum, and she probably walked every single other square inch of the grounds several times a day. I couldn't really see why, though. It was a nice little spot. Quaint. Idyllic. Peaceful. And peace really was what I needed to think. Back at the house, peace was a very rare thing after seven in the morning. It was nice to have somewhere to escape to... I shuddered at the thought of the word escape... Fleeing through the forest, chased by a bodiless whisper...

I shook my head and leaned down, splashing my face with the water in the pond. Easy now, Fran. Don't scare yourself. Just a dream. Just a dream. I straightened up and paced around the pond, trying to think about something different. Which day was it today? Sunday. Probably just a day at home, then. My sisters, mother and myself lived on a farm in the South-West of England. We kept sheep - and occasionally some cattle - and also had part of our land dedicated to the sowing and growing of corn. Mum spent almost all her time tending to the animals and the crop - with us three girls as well, home really was a full-time job for her. Not that she minded. She prided herself in her land and her family, bless her. I did sometimes wish that she got out more - you know, talked to someone other than us, the livestock and our dog, Barney. Maybe someone her own age. Well, that was her business. I turned away from the pond and wandered down towards the house, my wellies squelching in the mud.

The sun had completely risen now, it's light reflected off the dew on the grass. As I turned and walked up the hill, our small, shockingly red house came into view. Mum had had painters in just the other month - it needed it, too - and it now looked all shiny and clean, which was highly unusual. It had been built by my great-grandfather in his day, and, seeing as he was no builder, the house had had to be repaired many times throughout the years - and a rather wobbly extension to the second floor had had to be installed when Mae was born - as a result, it looked as if many pieces of completely different houses, all red, had been squashed together at odd angles, all really looking very crooked and strange. I walked up to the back door (an old, dark oak door infested by woodworm) and stepped inside. The living room, covered in baby blue wallpaper and shockingly red tiles (to match the house, no doubt) didn't look all that stylish either. The windows opposite the door were all different, too. I sat down on one of the broad, padded chairs, staring up at the clock over the fridge. 06:03 AM. I had hardly been out any time at all! Mum wouldn't be up for ages yet. I leaned back in my chair, and turned on the radio sitting on the windowsill beside me. A crackling voice took a minute to get into focus, and then the early morning news filled the kitchen: " - another girl, 17, was found in Shacklebury Wood last night at approximately three o'clock. She was reported missing earlier that same day by her mother, who was sadly unavailable for comment. Police say that she was found raped and beaten, and is currently in Pennsmouth Hospice in a coma, struggling to survive. They also warn all inhabitants of the nearby area to stay at home or stick to the crowded streets at night before the culprit is found. That's three girls in the past four weeks. If you have any information regarding the whereabouts or identity of the culprit -" I turned off the radio, suddenly feeling very, very drowsy. My eyelids began to falter involuntarily, and my head slumped onto the table. No, Fran, not now... The dream, the radio... Tell mum... Tell Mae... Tell Heather... No, Please... Even my thoughts sounded blurred and distorted, as if it was simply a very small, drunken Fran who was murmuring away inside my head... What a strange thought that was...

Shadows. Darkness. Branches seemed to fly at me from every direction as I raced through the forest, and my hair and dress seemed to get snagged on everything as I stumbled along, trying to move faster.

"Where a you hiding, my sweet?"

I felt the salty tears streak down my cheeks, my shoulders shivering in the cold. A distinct feeling of icy hopelessness seemed to linger in my chest, and the further I ran, the more difficult it became to believe that the forest would ever come to an end.

"Don't think you can escape me, dearest."

In a moment of utter desperation, I attempted to turn my head to see who was chasing me. Before I could get a clear view of anything, I tripped on a root and fell flat on my stomach. As soon as i hit the ground, I began to scramble frantically to regain my footing, scraping my hands and wrists on the sharp rocks as I went. No sooner had I risen to my knees than I felt a hand on my shoulder.

"Fran... "

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