Footsteps rang out, everywhere, constant. The malicious scraping of a blade on a sharpener, the creaking of an old rifle as its trigger was tested; waiting, expectant. I shrank into the shadows, praying they wouldn't see me. Manic laughter sounded off in the distance, echoing throughout. I shrank further, crouching down; my knees pulled up, my arms wrapped around, rocking back and forth in an attempt to comfort myself. There came the shriek of a terrified girl far away, loud and consistent, until it was cut off abruptly. Was I next? I swallowed, my mouth dry with fear, trying hard not to think of what caused that shriek to stop. The footsteps came closer, and a figure all in black appeared before me. I clamped my eyes shut, hoping in vain that they had not seen me. Peeking through one eyelid, I took in the horror before me. The hooded figure raised a hand, part of the black gowns' sleeve falling back. I shuddered as I saw the bony, liver-spotted hand, sinewy with prominent veins; the glint of a silver blade grasped within it. Sharp and violent, threatening, promising. I opened my mouth and screamed silently, my heart pounding, fear filling me, as it glided towards me. Its hood slid back to reveal a faceless head, bare but for to empty holes, staring emotionlessly at me. Gaunt and frightening, the faceless creature stared upon me. I covered my face with quaking hands, and screamed for all I could.

I woke suddenly, breathing heavily, heart beating frantically. Sweat beads clung to my forehead, and my arms shook in fear. I threw back the covers and stumbled for the light switch. Something was very wrong.

Glancing at my clock, I read the flashing neon numbers. 12:00. Evidently, there had been a blackout. I squinted at my watch, unaffected by the power blackout. It read 4:00. I must have woken just as the power went back on, if my bedside clock had not yet changed from its automatic reset time.

Reaching the light switch, I flicked it on. Light flooded the room, and I searched for the time-set button on my bedside clock. Finding it quickly, I fixed it so it read 4:00, like my watch.

I walked out of my bedroom door, and headed for my sister's room. I knew I had to check. I just had to. I moved faster, changing my pace from a walk to a run. I could feel my heart about to leap out of my chest, the sound of my heavy, worried breathing, fogging my thoughts. I turned the corner, metres away from her door. My feet pounded the last few steps, and as I reached her door and flung it open.

I fumbled wildly for the light switch, and flung her room into the harsh glow of the fluorescent globe. It couldn't be true, it‒ I was stopped mid-thought by a loud groan of annoyance, simultaneously as my worried eyes took in the sight of her half asleep self. I greeted her with a relieved sigh. She, however, was not as pleased to see me.

"Get. Out. NOW." Elise whispered, disgruntled, her hair messily tangled around her annoyed face.

"I'm warning you, Kendra; get out of my room NOW!" She sat bolt upright, annoyance turned to anger, pointing at her door. I nodded meekly, and left.

Wandering back down the hallway, heading for my room ‒though in much less of a hurry than before‒ I mused about my dream. It had all seemed so... real. As if it were of importance, a message trying to tell me something. I shrugged one last time, and dismissed the thought.

I came to a halt as I reached my door, and flicked off the light I had so carelessly left on before. My room submerged into semi-darkness as I climbed into bed, and pulled my covers up to my chin. I closed my eyes and tried to get some sleep, but I couldn't shake the feeling that something was wrong.

Saturday came, though it brought none of its usual happiness. The morning seemed bleak, and even the cloudy, rainy weather appeared to agree.

I trudged gloomily into the kitchen, dragging my feet behind me. Something was definitely different. Varying emotions crept through me. Unease? Fear? Dread? These words seeped into my mind, toying with my thoughts.

I glanced out of the window as I poured cereal into a pristine white bowl. Gloom shrouded the thunderous sky, the combination of rain and fog making the entire landscape visible from my little window look distant and hidden. A cool breeze wafted through the open door, making me shiver, and set the hairs on my arm standing on end. I looked back at my bowl as I heard the rustle of an empty packet; I had emptied out the entire contents of the cereal box. I sighed, and scraped the excess cereal pieces back into the bowl.

I stood up, intending to close the door, and made my way from the bench to the slightly ajar mesh door. I reached it and slid it open completely, stepping outside to breathe the fresh air and clear my head. I stepped out on to the decking, closed my eyes and inhaled deeply. I brushed my hair behind my ears and opened my eyes.

"Good morning." Elise greeted me tiredly. I jumped slightly in shock, not having noticed her there before.

"Oh. You're there. Yes, good morning."

I smiled as I walked over to her, and sat in the seat next to hers, the hard plastic digging into my ribs. I shifted until I was comfortable.

"So-" I made to break the silence, "-What are you doing out here?" I questioned, mildly hoping for an answer. Elise made a face in reply.

"Oh, you know; just enjoying the wonderful weather." Elise said, her voice thick with sarcasm. She gestured towards the dark sky, the clouds too close together to see if they had shifted since I had previously looked. I nodded.

We sat together for a while, gazing at the sky. I wondered aloud if the weather would clear. Elise muttered something indistinguishable beneath her breath, though undoubtedly quite rude. She was miffed that her plans to go to the beach had been spoiled by the poor weather.

"Let's go to the park." I said suddenly. Elise raised an eyebrow in confusion.

"Why would you want to do that?" She asked. I rolled my eyes.

"Because then at least we'll be doing something productive." Elise wrinkled her nose, displeased with my reasoning.

"I don't care about that. Besides, if it's windy here, imagine what it's like over there." As if on cue, a big gust of wind came, making the trees rock, and knocking over several small pot plants in the process. I sighed in agreement. We stood up, and headed inside.

Half an hour later, we both sat down on the wooden benches provided at the local park. Bored beyond belief, Elise had decided to come with me. We talked contentedly about the beauty salon where we both worked at; whether Mark, our boss, would give us the raise we asked for; If Jo, the current receptionist, would last longer than Mandy, the previous one; And if Mark would stop bringing Jeremiah, his parakeet, to work with him.

"I think Jeremiah's more of a companion to Mark than Grace ever was." Elise said wryly. I sniggered.

"Poor Grace, shoved in line by a bird." I was referring to Jeremiah constantly pecking Grace's shoulders whenever Mark paid more attention to her than him. She gave him an ultimatum; her or the bird. Of course, Mark picked the bird, and of course, he was devastated when Grace left him. He wouldn't talk for a week.

"How about some hot chocolate?" Elise asked suddenly, gesturing towards the small stand slightly hidden by a few ferns. I nodded in appreciation, and made to stand up.

"No, no; you stay here. I'll get it." I shrugged, and Elise went off.

I shivered as yet another breeze came by, and rubbed my hands in anticipation. A bird nearby chirped, and I turned my head to see it. I watched in silence as it fed its babies one by one, each one studying her intently to see who would be next. The smallest bird was left without, as the mother bird ran out of food. It chirped loudly, evidently not happy with this arrangement. The mother bird ruffled up her feathers and stretched out her neck. She seemed to squint her eyes as she opened her mouth wide, and regurgitated food for the littlest one. I shuddered in disgust and turned away.

Glancing at my watch, I saw that five minutes had passed since Elise had left. I frowned as I glanced at the stall, wondering what was taking her so long. Deciding to give her a few more minutes, I sat back and watched a man with a dog walk by. The man wore a long grey coat and a green old fashioned cap, and his dog, a Scottish terrier, had a matching green jacket. I fought the urge to run to the dog and coo about how adorable he was. Fortunately for me, the dog ran to me, instead. His eager little nose snuffled around my feet, and nudged my hand. He gazed up at me adoringly, his big brown eyes irresistible to any dog lover like me. I smiled and patted his back. His ears perked up, and his tag came in view.

"Muttley, huh? That's a cute name." I laughed as he seemed to nod in agreement.

I scratched behind his ear, and he rolled over for me to rub his tummy. The coarse hairs on his back faded into soft fur on his tummy, and he licked my hand delightedly. I continued to pat him, and glanced at my watch. It had been at least ten minutes by now. Where on earth had Elise gone? And where, for that matter, had Muttley's owner disappeared to?

It had been long enough, so I went to find Elise. I walked to the stand where she had headed, wondering if she had gotten held up in a queue, only to find that the woman behind the counter wasn't serving anyone. She smiled warmly at me.

"What can I do for you? Coffee? Snack? Hot chocolate?" My smile faded slightly at the last one she mentioned.

"Actually, I was hoping you could tell me if you'd seen my sister? She should have been here within the past ten minutes; she came for two hot chocolates. She's a bit taller than me, early twenties, medium build, curly brown hair up to her ears, very pale complexion, light green eyes..." My voice trailed off miserably as the woman shook her head.

"Sorry, I can't help you. You're the first customer I've had in the last hour. I don't suppose I could tempt you with those hot chocolates, in case she returns?" The woman asked hopefully. I shook my head sadly, and left.

I scanned the park for signs of Elise. Muttley was still with me, as his owner still hadn't shown up. He sensed my distress and whined, as if to say Have they forgotten us? Are we going to be left behind? I patted his head absent-mindedly. He lay down and covered his nose and eyes with his small furry paws, which I guessed to be dog body language for agitation. He gave another upset doggy whinge.

"You and me both, Mutt; you and me both." With that, we left for home.

I tried to reach Elise's mobile, but it rang out, eventually leaving me with her voice message: "Hey, you've reached Elise. I can't come to the phone right now, or I'm too immersed in Grey's Anatomy. Leave your complaint after the beep!" I left several messages, finally realising that she wasn't going to answer, though continued to ring for the comfort of her voice. Was this what it felt like to lose a sister? I shuddered at this thought, and quickly abolished it.

I realised that, although Muttley seemed to be settling nicely, I should ring his owner. I reached for his tag for the second time. MUTTLEY, it read, in big, bold letters on the front. The flip-side had a number on it, but simply three digits: 000.

"What on earth was wrong with that guy? Who puts an emergency number on a dog tag?" I muttered angrily to Muttley. He barked compliantly.

I exhaled sharply. Three hours. That's how long Elise had been gone for. I determined that it was time to check some other places. So, I got in my car, and left for the bakery.

Upon arrival, Stella greeted me like an old friend. I walked towards the counter, and she embraced me enthusiastically, as was her custom.

"Kendra! It's been so long! How are you? How's the family? And who's this little fella?" She spoke fast, gesturing wildly, and knelt down to see Muttley.

"Hi, Stella." I replied, unexpectedly exhausted. "I'm fine, the family's fine, and this is Muttley. Muttley, meet Stella. How are you, Stell?"

"I'm good thanks, Kendra." She cuddled Muttley with more enthusiasm than I thought I could muster, even for my birthday. "Ooh, Muttley, you're so cute!" Stella turned back to me again. "How long have you had him?"

"Actually, since this morning. Elise and I were out for a jog, and Muttley's owner just disappeared, and-"

"Elise! How is she?" Stella exclaimed, still more animated than an excitable puppy. I drew in a deep breath, trying to steady myself.

"Actually, Stella, that's why I'm here. Elise- Well, she's gone missing." The shocked look on Stella's face told all. She hadn't seen Elise, and neither had anyone else around here. I heaved a sigh, turned on my heel, and left.

1:00

One o'clock. That's the time that stared me in the face from my luminous, red neon clock. One o'clock, on Wednesday. Elise was legally declared missing three days ago. I checked all the usual places she could have gone to: the bakery, the 7-eleven, Jo's house, Mack's house; in fact, I checked all of our friends houses yesterday. I even checked the library, though god knows why. It's not like she reads anything other than her OK! or Cleo magazines.

I informed the police. I told them she was missing. I told them I had looked everywhere, that there was nowhere else she could be. I told them she could have been abducted by the unfriendly people who walk the streets, that she could even have been murdered. I was absolutely frantic. And what did they freakin' do? They put it on file.

"Stupid, idiotic, brainless fools. Get paid high wages, and what do they do? Sit around on their asses all day, that's what they do. They don't pay attention to real crimes." I fired many more insults about the police, and cussed a great deal more. My language was so filthy, if my mother had been around, she would have washed my mouth out with Solvol.

I sensed the enormity of the situation at hand, but could not quite absorb it completely. Elise was gone. I clenched my hands and hoped she was still out there, that she would return today. She would she would have to. I curled up in the couch, and squeezed my eyes tight together. I could feel tears welling up, but fought it, and tried not to cry. I wasn't giving up.

Muttley barked. I opened my eyes to see him sitting at the door, the leash I had bought him yesterday clamped in his jaw. I put on a brave face -for Muttley's sake- and nodded.

"Okay, Muttley; let's go." I went to the door, picking up my keys from the coffee table.

I was half out the door, keys in hand, Muttley waiting impatiently, when I stopped and gazed back at the dents in the couch. My dent, and Elise's dent. I saw the clean table; no cookie crumbs littered the bench like they always did. Not without Elise. There had been hot water left for my shower that morning. Her room was tidy, her bed was made. There were no magazines lying forgotten around the house. It wasn't our home any more. It was just an empty, soulless place, where I now lived.

"I haven't forgotten you, Elise. We're coming to find you." With that, Muttley and I left the house, locking the door behind us. I wiped away the tear running down my cheek, pulled my hair back behind my headband, and headed off for our routine check. First stop; the bakery.