Skylar knew she shouldn’t have gone running in the woods. Not these woods, where all those girls had been taken by persons unknown; lost to their families, sometimes found later as a pile of bones, more often than not simply gone forever, gone without a trace.
She knew she shouldn’t have chosen that particular place to put her headphones in, block the noise the world the stress out, running almost with her eyes closed, in a trance, unaware, un-alert to the dangers that lurk for unsuspecting girls caught off their guards.
On the news, they called him The Woodsman. They advised all women and girls to be vigilant, don’t go in the woods, don’t get caught alone. Travel in packs like defenseless sheep, ready to bleat and scream when the wolf reveals himself. Walk with whistles or bats or clubs or vicious dogs or strapping men. Lock yourselves away.
But Skylar’d just wanted to escape for a while; to feel the fresh breeze of a place untouched by smog and pollution and clear her head in the quiet wild, surrounded by the energy of the trees and the rustling of the small things that lived and breathed there.
Now she was trapped. Locked in a cage in a room in a basement in a cabin hidden deep in the woods. Taken by a wild man, an unassuming fellow runner whose crazy only revealed itself in his eyes once you dared to look, although by then it was too late and you were his.
Of course, she’d let herself be taken. She’d been curious, to tell the truth, about what he’d been up to with these women.
He’d run past her in the opposite direction, given her a wide berth so she wouldn’t be alarmed, but then doubled back and grabbed her from behind a few miles further into the woods. He hadn’t said a word as she’d struggled – she didn’t want to make it seem too easy, after all — and taken her to this hopeless, broken down place.
He’d led her down some rickety wooden stairs and flung her inside the cage and stared at her for a while with his wide, green eyes, breathing heavily in that way only homicidal freaks seem to do, then left her abruptly, stomping back upstairs and leaving only quiet behind.
She didn’t like what she saw in the dug out basement – dirt floors stained deep ochre with blood; torn, dirty clothing crumpled into corners. Broken fingernails from those who’d tried to dig their way out, signs of panic and desperation The sharp smell of fear seeped into the filthy walls. But then, what had she expected, a hidden salon with a blow-dry bar and a gel nail station? No, she knew that she would find only evil here.
There was only the one small cage in the room, which made sense to Skylar since only one girl went missing first every few months, then once every few weeks, then, recently, ramping up to once a month. He was obviously enjoying himself too much to keep up any semblance of self-control. Although, she thought, what’s self-control to a serial killer?
Skylar sighed and tsked and shook her head. What an asshole, she thought.
One by one, she bent the metal bars of the cage backward, creating a space through which she could slip out. She made her way boldly up the stairs and tried the door at the top, which, predictably, was bolted shut. She kicked it in, crumpling the heavy door as if it were paper, startling the man as he sat at his kitchen table. His hands were halfway to his mouth as he prepared to take a bite of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Skylar cocked her head to the side and gave him a lopsided smirk.
“Peanut butter and jelly?” she asked. “What are you, twelve?”
He looked at her dazedly for a moment before it occurred to him that his captive was standing in front of him, quite clearly unfettered from any cage, quite clearly unafraid. He dropped his sticky sandwich to the floor with a splat and roared in anger, leaping from his chair and launching himself onto Skylar, knocking her to the floor.
She lay calmly beneath him as he clamped his hands around her throat and squeezed as he grunted and grunted as he squeezed, his brow furrowed first in rage then confusion as he realized Skylar wasn’t fighting back, wasn’t trying to get away, wasn’t screaming but…laughing?
She was laughing. A deep, hearty guffaw that came straight from her belly, tears of glee squeezing out the corners of her eyes.
“Oh, oh Woodsman!” she tittered through her giggles, her hands on the floor beside her, her body relaxed underneath the weight of the crazed man on top of her. “Oh sweet, sweet Woodsman. Are you trying to kill me? Oh you poor, clueless thing. Don’t you know you cannot kill a thing that’s already dead?”
As quick as lightning, Skylar grabbed the Woodsman’s hand from her throat and tore it from the wrist with her teeth. As the man screamed in shock and pain, she flipped him on his back and started ripping into his flesh, tearing him apart piece by piece, swallowing parts of him whole like a starved wolf who’d finally killed an elusive prey.
The Woodsman wailed and flailed in pain and disbelief, but Skylar bit and tore and shredded until his screams became cries and his cries became whimpers and his whimpers became breaths and his breaths became nothing at all.
Sated and blood-drunk, Skylar rocked back on her heels and wiped her arm across her bloody mouth. She stared down at the remains of the man who’d brought so much evil to her little town. She giggled.
Without another word, she got to her feet, fixed her long, blond ponytail, found her headphones still in her pocket, stuck them in her ears and walked out the cabin door.
She was looking forward to that run, to escaping for a while, feeling the fresh breeze of a place untouched by smog and pollution, clearing her head in the quiet wild, surrounded by the energy of the trees and the rustling of the small things that lived and breathed there.