Chapter 20: Under Pressure

Penelope looks into the deep brown eyes in front of her. Then at the fingers wrapped with a vice like grip around her arm.

“What do you want?” She tries to free herself. “Let me go.”

He says nothing, simply tightening his grip. The look in his eyes sends a shiver down her spine. Fear takes over. Makes her want to run.

“I’ll scream.” She pulls harder. Thunder cracks loudly.

“Who’s going to hear you?” His voice is lower than she expects. She swings her free arm forward, her fingers catching the skin of his cheek. His grip loosens for just a second, but it’s all she needs to rip her arm free and run. She pushes herself as hard as possible. The rain slicked gravel of the trail handicapping years of training. Her feet slip under her. If she can just get back under the tree cover, the path will be drier. She can get away. She hears the thumping of feet against the wet ground behind her. The grunt as he slips.

“Faster, Penelope. Come on. Come on.” She eggs herself on. Pushing just a little bit faster. Through the pain. Through the terror. She glances back over her shoulder, trying to see where he is. Her foot catches a dip in the path, pitching her forward. Sharp stones cut into the flesh of her palms. “Get up. Get up. Get up.” Her feet fight for purchase, but the wet stones slip fruitlessly against the slick soles of her shoes.

“You might as well stop trying.” Large hands wrap around her arms, pulling her from the ground. Her feet flail as she tries to free herself. She feels her body being drug from the path into the underbrush. She opens her mouth to scream, but the sound the storm drowns out her voice. She can hardly hear herself. Her body falls through the air as the hands push her forward. Letting her drop to the ground. She tries to scramble backwards. Away from his towering body. Tree roots dig into her hands. Pain shoots through her arms. The tears swimming in her eyes are not a result of the pain.

“Why are you doing this?” Her voice is frantic, cracking as she searches for a way out. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry!” His hand flies forward as she tries to scream again. His large palm pressing against her mouth.

“Stop that.” He crawls forward, his strong legs on either side of hers, holding her down.

“Please stop.” She struggles beneath him. “Please. You don’t have to do this.” She begs, wishing she was stronger. Wishing she hadn’t been so stupid. Hadn’t gotten herself into this situation.

His strong hands pull her arms from above her head where he’s been holding them, and jam them against the side of her body. Before she can struggle away, her hands are flat, pressing into the ground, palms down, his knees firmly on top of them. Pain shoots through her arms as her hands bend unnaturally. She arches her back. Trying to move away from the pain. His weight presses down against her. Pinning her.

He sits back, staring down at her. Rain drips through the thick leaves above her. Falling in cold, slow drops onto her face. One splashes against the corner of her eye. She blinks away the moisture clouding her vision. Instantly, she wishes she hadn’t. Even in the darkness, she can see the hard edge behind the deep brown eyes. Worse than she’s ever seen before.

“You made me do this.” His voice is full of contempt.

“Please.” Her voice no more than a whisper now. “Please let me go. I won’t tell anyone. I promise. I swear.” She shifts her gaze away, concentrating on a small raspberry bush wilted from the fall frost. The lightning flashes provide strobes of detail. She feels his large hands trailing up her arms, slowly. The gentleness throws her. It’s too familiar. She pulls from it, stiffening beneath him. The strong hands find her neck. She chokes a little as his thumbs press into the divot at its base. As the pressure increases, it becomes harder to pull in a breath.

“No one threatens me.” His voice is flat, dry, cold. “Especially not some stupid little girl.”

She forces herself to stay as still as possible as the pressure increases. To not give in. She knows she can’t get away. Can’t win. As her vision irises, her muscles begin to struggle for air. Her body jerks uncontrollably away from the ground as the last of her vision fades away.

His feet thump against the wooded path, the sound muffled by the still damp gravel. Rounding a corner, he breaks from the tree line where the path runs along the creek. Gil feels the sun pounding against his skin, surprisingly strong considering the rain that had fallen for most of the night. He feels a rush of joy he hasn’t felt in weeks.

His breath quickening, he pushes himself towards where the path disappears into the trees again. As he enters the shade, he sees two women standing in the middle of the path. Both dressed in running gear, neither moving. Unable to stop himself in time, Gil feels his body slam into the closest woman. The two of them fall against one of the trees.

“Jesus.” He pushes away from her. “Stand off to the side if you’re not running.” He brushes the pieces of bark from his sleeve and hair. His fingers touch the side of his face. Blood drips from tears running across his cheek. “Well?” He turns to them, both women stand there, looking nervously towards the trees. The one Gilbert had run into points towards a tree along the side of the path. Gil looks over and sees the familiar shoes sticking out of the bushes. His breath catches in his throat.

“Have you looked yet?” He feels his stomach flutter.

They both shake their heads slowly. “We just got here. We only stopped for a water break.” One of them answers. “We’re hoping it’s just shoes.”

The other woman steps forward. Pushing by Gilbert, through the tree line. “It’s not.” Her voice catches in her throat. She stumbles backwards, her feet catching on branches. Gil grabs her as she begins to fall. She doubles over, clutching at her chest. “It’s a girl.”

“Is she…” Gil stumbles over his words. ”Is she alive?”

“I don’t know.” She sobs, grabbing her friend’s hand. “It doesn’t look like it.”

Gil steps beyond the trees, his heart skipping momentarily, then racing. He looks back at the two women. They both look at him with matching looks of concern and anxiety. He pushes forward, stopping when he sees the hair. A pillow of black curls stretching out around her pale face. This time, his heart seems to stop for good. She looks almost angelic against the damp earth. Perfect.

He kneels down, pressing his fingers against her neck. Feeling for a pulse. “Shit.” He mutters to himself, pressing her fingers into the dirt. Clogging her nails. “She’s got a pulse!” He calls to the women still hovering behind him on the path. “Call an ambulance.”

Chapter 21

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