Where's Joe?

As she ran, Stacey's eyes darted through the darkness of the forest, trying to look for him. He was just ahead of her a second earlier! How did she lose him?

The bright colour of his winter coat should have made him easily visible, but no matter how much she looked around she couldn't see him. He was gone. Like he never existed to begin with.

She couldn't even see his tracks in the snow.

There was such a panic to get away, that they had both run as fast as they could, barely thinking of directions.

The image of Antonia, turning and running at Oskar, flared in Stacey's mind. She fought back the urge to cry.

She should have stayed and helped her.

But she was just so scared.

Stacey stopped running and leaned against a tree, her deep breaths inhaling flakes from a fresh snowfall that chilled her lungs.

She had to calm down and use the techniques she had learned to bring her racing thoughts under control.

"Stop," she said, between the harsh breaths. "Stop. Stop! Stop!"

The screaming in her head silenced, but her heart continued to hammer inside her.

That was good.

Her mind was silent.

It gave her time to sort herself out. Let herself calm down and listen.

Listen for what?

There was a crack, splitting through the trees, off at the edge of her sanity.

Stacey held her breath and clamped a hand over her mouth. As the fear took her again, sweat poured from her skin and saturated the bottom layer of her clothes.

Her head turned every way she could think of, trying to see through the darkness of the trees and blinding white of the snow.

She didn't see what had made the noise.

One thing did catch her attention, though.

A deep hollow, swallowing shadows from inside an ancient tree.

Now that the repeating fear was absent from her mind, Stacey was able to think clearly and come up with sound ideas.

Reaching up, she snapped a branch from an overlooking fir tree and crawled into the hollow. Pushing the branch against the hole, to block the inside from view, she pulled her knees up close to her chest and settled down to wait and watch.

The scent of moss and earth surrounded her as Stacey waited in the embrace of the tree.

Outside the safety of the hollow, nothing moved.

Stacey was left in a vacant world. Non-silence enveloped her, as if her head was submerged in the bath and she was listening to the dull sound of her own organs.

Stacey could have been waiting hours for all she knew, as time crawled along. She did not dare move, however. Something in the back of her mind told her that whatever was out there – whatever hunted her – was waiting for her to emerge.

It was just as she was about to leave the hollow that it happened.

Movement, through the obscuring barrier of the branch.

Whatever it was clearly didn't suspect that she was nearby. It wasn't trying to be quiet, and Stacey's past experience told her that it had no trouble silencing itself when it wanted to.

Stacey heard it rooting around in the darkness. Crashing through the trees in a tortured shamble, like a buck with an arrow buried inside it.

It prowled around, breathing with a guttural wetness, like water disappearing down a plug hole. Every so often it vocalised a dog-like yip.

She could smell rotting meat.

The stench entered the gaps in the branch and swam about her, drowning the comforting scent of moss and leaving her feeling suffocated and trapped.

It was close now.

Right in front of the tree.

Stacey bit down on her lip until she drew blood, trying to kill the sound of fear forming in her lungs.

Go away… she thought. Go away. Go away. Go away. Go away.

She tried to think of something else. Anything else.

Anything other than the terror of what waited outside the tree.

She thought of her home, of her dad, of her family, of the path to death her soul would take, through the woods to the deep black lake, where it dwells with wicked things, like animal bites and insect stings-

Her body shuddered when she realised the thoughts were not her own. The voice was something else. Familiar but wrong. Like someone was trying to imitate her.

She knew her own mind.

Stacey had been trapped inside it so long she knew the paths her own delusions and thoughts took.

She knew that it was wrong.

It didn't sound right.

The taste of blood was thick in her mouth and Stacey swallowed the liquid and realised

just how hungry she was

she hadn't eaten all day and the blood tasted so good

Pain screamed through her face as she bit down harder on her lip and tore through the flesh.

What the hell am I doing?

Stacey snapped out of the daze she was in again.

Something wasn't right.

It was like her thoughts were being led somewhere else.

Somewhere dangerous.

She needed to stop.

Stop

Stop.

St-

Stacey just about caught herself. Her hand clamped tighter around her mouth, and she swallowed the sound of her voice.

She had been about to speak. About to say "Stop" out loud, like she had done earlier to calm herself.

Only she wasn't the one that initiated it.

The thing outside the tree had.

She was sure of it.

The sound of its movement receded out into the night.

Had it been trying to draw her out?

That was the only explanation Stacey could think of.

Somehow, it was able to influence her thoughts. It was trying to find her and was using her own mind to do so.

Still holding her hand over her mouth, even while blood dripped through her fingers, Stacey wept in silence.

Tears filled her eyes and dripped down her cheeks, leaving her vision blurred.

Stacey just wanted to go home.

Go home and get away from it all.

But she couldn't.

Not just yet.

She needed to phone for help.

She had to get to the staff cabin.