Mara turned in her place, heart slamming against her chest. She could see nothing beyond the darkness of the forest.
“Who’s there?!” She cried weakly, but no response followed.
She cursed herself coming here; into the forest people barely returned from. She cursed herself for laughing at the fear it invoked in her village and her need to prove their fear unnecessary– that she would return by dusk.
Now it was dark and she was terrified. It wasn’t the first time she’d heard that distinct crack, but had dismissed it as fearful movements of the forest’s rodents, a rabbit perhaps.
Definitely not a rabbit, she thought. The sound seemed more decisive than fearful– ominous.
Crack. Crack. Crack.
It was getting louder and faster, and she did the only thing she could do: she ran.
Crack. Crack. Crack.
Mara heard the fall of multiple feet around her, crunching autumn fallen autumn leaves.
She yelped as her feet gave out from underneath her and fell. She called out for help and felt tears stream down her face. She was stupid– so stupid for coming here.
Then, there was laughter. Mara jerked upright and turned to where the laughter erupted. Three figures had emerged from the trees and two of them were almost on the ground laughing. The other was holding out a hand to her.
Jacob, Calvin, and Mark.
“Are you all right?” Asked Mark, hand still outstretched.
Mara felt a sudden rush of anger and relief at the sight of the local boys. She slapped his hand as she got to her feet. “Fine,” she grumbled. “No thanks to you.”
Mark’s look of concern turned into one of guilt as he dropped his head.
Mark shook when Jacob slammed his hands onto his shoulders, Calvin smiling idiotically at his side. “What do you think of the Forest now Mara?” He said, “scared yet?”
Mara gave him a rueful smile as she crossed her hands over her chest, refusing him a sliver of satisfaction. “Please Jacob, the only thing this little experience has proven is that you three are pathetic and in need of a hobby,” letting her lips stretch into a smile as his smirk disappeared.
“Well,” Jacob said, grin returning, “based on my experience you’re a gutless chicken.”
“And what would you do in my place?” Mara said, refusing to back down, “soil yourself and crawl under a rock I suppose.”
Even in the cover of darkness, Mara could see his thin face redden profusely. “No, I wouldn’t-”
“During the harvest festival last year, you-”
“Okay! Okay, let’s not delve into the past,” he said loudly, “Now let’s get out of here before some does attack us.”
A scream rang out, making them jump in our place.
“What the hell was that?” Jacob asked, a tremble in his voice.
Then, Mara noticed.
“Where’s Calvin?” She asked hesitantly.
Mark spun around, but then stopped dead in his place, blue eyes wide and terrified at something over my shoulder.
He opened his mouth, “Mara-”
And then there was blood.
Art Credit: Ivan Ivanovich Shishkin.