After a handful of heartbeats, Lori lands heavily, stumbling, sending a flurry of decaying twigs and leaves in every direction. The impact knocks her breath from her chest but she doesn’t stop. She careens forward, half blind, gasping. Eventually she sucks in a decent breath, and she starts sprinting again. Behind her, hesitant to follow her over the stone bluff, the thing squats on the peak of the rock face, splitting the stones on the ground as it howls its rage over the miles of winding foothills.
Lori handled the divorce even worse than most children. Mostly because she hated being dropped off at her father’s workplace. She spent every Friday waiting in the break room of Daddy’s work, doing homework as she eyed the clock, watching men and women come and go. It was always the same routine for those people: they would remove their gloves, slide their masks down onto their necks, and grab another cup of coffee or an energy shot before leaving her alone again.
She had recently decided they weren’t doctors.
She came to this conclusion the day she saw a woman doctor with blood on her arm strapped to a gurney and being wheeled madly down the hallway outside the door to the break room. Lori had snuck to the door and cracked it open, watching the group of people around the woman as they frantically yelled at the cameras in the hallway to open the triple-set of doors to the lobby. Lori had crept slowly out of the break room and peered down the hallway and past the lobby in time to see the woman doctor disappear inside an ambulance.
Lori had never liked the sight of blood, but she knew doctors weren’t supposed to be bothered by it. She wondered why the woman in bloody scrubs had been taken away by an ambulance. If everybody in the building was a doctor, why couldn’t they have just helped her there? She and her father got home extra late that night because he took three showers at work before he came to get her.
Lori knows that if she keeps moving downhill she will at some point strike the road that winds up the mountain to her father’s facility. Her legs and head are splitting with pain from the fall, and even in her pitiable state of confused shock, she knows that those injuries are the least of her worries. Her passage is painfully loud in the muted silence of the woods; the snapping crunch of her footfalls echoes off every rock and tree. Already she has been running for an eternity, and she searches constantly through the trees for the first glint of asphalt or perhaps even the lights of a police cruiser. Heaven knows they’ll be coming. Finally, Lori spots a break in the trees. Chest heaving, legs bulging from knotted muscles, eyes cloudy and throbbing from the shock to her head, she bursts from the treeline….
And onto an outcrop of rock that projects from the roots of the forest and out into the air before falling off in a sheer cliff-face.
Lori shrieks and slides to a stop, pushing several pieces of loose shale clear off the cliff. Looking out over the distant forest, Lori is struck by the realization that in her hurried flight, she must have wound downhill in the wrong direction. The road is on the other side of the mountain. Before her stretches miles of wilderness.
Somewhere in the woods behind her, she can hear the thing getting closer.
Something had gotten out. Lori knew it the second the alarm started blaring. She figured out what this place was a moment too late. The masks, the doors, the woman with bloody scrubs. It wasn’t her blood, was it? Lori had tried to run before the alarms even went off. It was a good thing too, because once the security system took over, every door in the facility was sealed tight. Lori had made it to the lobby before the building locked down.
The screams coming from down the corridor filled Lori’s ears. The receptionist in the lobby was hysterical, screaming into a dead phone line and shaking like an epileptic. She had pulled a small revolver from a drawer in her desk, but even young Lori could see that she didn’t know how to use it. Lori tried the front doors and found them locked. The screams were getting louder. Lori searched desperately for a way out, trying to see in the poor illumination of the glaring emergency lighting. Her eyes locked on a fire kit.
“Grab the extinguisher!” Lori screamed, rising to her feet. The receptionist obeyed, running to the kit and smashing the glass window with the butt of her revolver. Lori snatched the extinguisher from her and shoved it behind the push-bar of the lobby doors. Then she took the receptionist by the hand and they moved to a safe distance.
“Shoot it.” Lori instructed. The woman took aim as well as she could despite her shaking hands. She pulled the trigger just as the hallway doors behind them burst open.
The extinguisher exploded, fracturing the glass and blowing off the push bar. But the two girls weren’t looking at those doors. Lori watched as the thing slammed into the receptionist and bore her into the ground, knocking Lori over and sending her skidding over the floor and into the fractured glass.
Lori shattered through the doorway as a single, choked cry sounded from the building. There was nothing she could do for the dying woman inside. Lori turned and fled for her life.
She closes her eyes as the thing barrels out of the treeline. This is the end for her. Then, of all the things she expects to hear or feel, she hears her name, called by a familiar voice. She cracks one eye open in time to see her father exit the woods after the thing. He slams into it just before it reaches Lori, pushing it off course and sending it plummeting swiftly over the edge. It releases one last keel of rage and then is lost in the trees below. Lori’s foot slips and she almost tumbles after the creature, but her father grabs her hand and pulls her into a protective hug.
“Gotcha,” he whispers.
“This was your fault to begin with!” Lori screams, spinning them both around and pushing him off the ledge.