One hand clutched the waistband so that the pants would not slide down her legs. Having only one free hand gave her pause when she ran into what first appeared to be a dead end. Her heart pounded like a thunderstorm in her chest and urged her forward. A quick glance around revealed a dumpster glistening darkly in the night mist and that the wall behind the dumpster was short and scalable. Buried beneath the alley’s refuse lay a crate. She grabbed the crate and tossed it closer to the dumpster.
She ran toward the dumpster, pushed herself up and off the crate to the top in one smooth motion. Unable to check her momentum, she smacked into the brick wall scraping her free hand and part of her right cheek. Blood mixed with rain, trickling through the mud she had not stopped to wash away. Mist beaded in her hair and grew heavy enough to drip down her neck in cold rivulets. She shivered when she paused again.
With no obvious alternative, she let the pants slide from her hips, stepped out of them and tied them around her waist, oblivious to her own nakedness in the face of desperate practicality. Jamming her fingers and toes into the space where brick met mortar, she wriggled to the summit, leaving bits of flesh and blood behind.
Flinging herself up and over, bare knees slammed on broken glass from bottles tossed onto the roof of what seemed to be a walkway between buildings. Keeping an eye out for a rope or cord long enough to tie around her waist and make this little bit of her life that much easier, she saw only sparkling glass fragments like a cluster of stars in the moonlight.
Walking in space… Beautiful starlight sliced through bare feet as she stepped to the other edge.
She dangled her legs off the side, taking only a few moments to pick out the largest slivers of glass from her palms, knees and feet before sliding the pants up her bleeding legs. Pain robbed her of breath when she landed hard on the pavement below. For a full minute, she knelt in the filth of the city and blinked away the stars and darkness that threatened her vision. When she breathed deeply to steady herself, another sharp pain pierced her side. She was used to this one by now, had only momentarily forgotten its existence. Returning to the fast, shallow breathing that had gotten her this far, she pushed herself up.
Not knowing if the footsteps in her head were imagined, real, or only her racing heartbeat, she stumbled further into the darkness. She stayed close to the wall on the right for support, feet pounding through puddles, hair and clothes plastered to her body, unable to think past the next step.
Ahead was another dumpster. There would be no climbing over this one. The wall behind it towered two stories and lacked windows. The alley itself opened up on the left. She could see a streetlight reflecting on the wet pavement.
Once more conflict raged within. He thrived in darkness. His minions found her in the light.
Footsteps echoed from the direction of the light. Undeniably real, shadowy figures followed their sound.
Bright twin lights burned through the darkness and blinded her where she’d dropped to a crouch.
Then the roar.
She scurried like a rat into the closest shadow. Where a rat’s senses would tingle excitedly in the organic stench, she silently retched. Swallowing dry heaves, she focused on individual aromas: rainwater flooding inefficient drainage, wet ashes from a million old cigarettes, bottles of beer redolent of someone else’s good time, her own blood and sweat. Only the mist enveloping her in clean wetness was tolerable. She held her breath against all of it just as much as she did to keep signs of her presence to a minimum and curled into herself.
The monster was close.
More than one set of footsteps echoing in her ears meant that he brought friends.