I fell down the last of the stairs, tripping over my own feet.
I rushed towards the open window, throwing my gear through and tumbling after it. Sound rumbled from inside the house, the stumble of the thing that now dressed itself as Lisa.
She had made it down the stairs.
I fought with the window, slamming it shut behind me. Its quiet protest rattled through the night.
I threw myself at the bike, dragging it up off the ground and throwing my stuff in the basket, taking off down the road, bracing myself for the clawing grasp of Lisa.
She wasn’t behind me yet. I’d lost her, at least temporarily, at the closed window.
I rode through the night, taking as many side streets as I could remember. Exhaustion was closing in on me, my legs and knees burning with a nagging ache.
Letting myself slip for just a moment, I let the exhaustion take control, let my pace slow to a lazy, wobbling crawl. Tears nipped at the corners of my eyes.
I didn’t have time for self pity. If I pushed, I could make it back at least to the farmhouse, thanks to the bike.
Letting the wind dry my eyes and clear my vision, I pedalled harder. The pain in my ankle burned in protest, but I pushed on.
It wasn’t until I’d reached the park that I allowed myself to slow to a stop and look behind me. The dark streets lay quiet and empty behind me.
Lisa either hadn’t worked out the window, or had lost my trail, and I could feel my panic slowly ebbing away.
I bumped the bike over the curb and wobbled over the uneven grass, the overgrown blades tickling my ankles where my jeans had ripped. Despite the bumpy ground, I made it to the creek quickly, pausing only to look around before I pulled my near empty water bottle out of my pack.
I drank the water that was left greedily and refilled it.
I felt uneasy here, not from something I could define or see, but from an unknown fear lurking behind every tree, quivering in each shadow that surrounded me.
Ignoring the impatient grumble of my stomach, I struggled my backpack on and pushed the bike through the grass. It was quicker pushing it at a half jog than trying to pedal through the overgrowth again.
I stood at the edge of the park, hiding under the thick trees. The street was so quiet it felt wrong, uncomfortable. A little too welcoming.
After a few long moments of stillness, I couldn’t wait any longer. The road sat quietly in the moonlight, inviting me.
I bumped back off the curb and started cycling. When nothing moved behind me, I ignored the telltale clicks and whir of the bike and pushed harder, bringing myself up to a speed where everything blurred around me, lost to the night.
Still nothing followed.
At the edge of town, I paused for a breath. There were still a few hours left of the night, but I knew I would have to stop at the farmhouse. I didn’t have time to get all the way to Lakes before dawn, and I had no idea what I might find in between.
I pushed off, letting myself really let go as the highway stretched out before me. The road was open, empty, and I pedalled with abandon. A glimmer of the joy I’d first felt on the bike returned, and I felt my spirit lift.
Before long I was back in the overgrowth leading to the farmhouse, pushing the bike through the stubborn weeds, tripping over unseen clumps of grass and rocks. The sense of security we’d felt at this house was gone now.
This was where they’d found us, where they’d taken Annie from us.
Even the field leading to it felt disturbed, unsafe.
I had no choice.
I pushed the bike into an especially thick part of grass at the side of the house, picking up my shovel and the knife, my tired hands only just barely gripping them.
I was out of fight, out of energy. Pushing myself through the last motions of another day in hell.
The farmhouse was how we’d left it, the barricades gone from downstairs. I let myself in and sat in a pool of moonlight in the dining room.
We spent all our time avoiding the light, but I felt drawn to it now, comforted in its glow. I closed my eyes for a long moment, then reached for my pack and a tin of the canned meat – tuna this time.
I ate it hungrily, messily, finishing and wiping my hands on my jeans. I felt better after eating, energised, a little more alive.
I washed it down with a couple of sips of water and leaned forward to inspect my ankle. It was in pretty rough shape, but at least the blood had dried.
I was unwinding, just starting to relax and think about moving upstairs, when I heard it. I couldn’t pinpoint what it might be, just a muffled noise, something that didn’t belong in an empty house.
Sudden silence stretched out for so long I was convinced I’d imagined it. I stood at the bottom of the stairs, aching hands gripping my shovel and the knife, staring into the darkness.
There it was, again. The sound of movement, of someone upstairs.
I wanted to leave. I wanted to just turn around and silently slip out of the farmhouse, retrieve the bike, and never come back. I had no courage left, absolutely no will to carry on. I was a coward, and in that moment, I could have just curled up and waited for whatever it was to find me.
As silence fell again, I realised the movements were intermittent, accidental. Whoever or whatever it was had no idea I was here.
I looked back up the stairs, seeing nothing in the darkness.
I couldn’t just lie here and wait. I couldn’t leave Jay alone, with no answers, no idea of what had happened to me. Not after he’d lost Annie and not after all the fights I’d been through.
I took the first step carefully, listening hard. It had stopped moving, but I could sense it now, sense that I wasn’t alone. The air had changed, become tense.
Halfway up the stairs, I stopped to listen, but the silence continued on.
I reached the top of the stairs and waited. My patience was rewarded with another quick sound of movement, brief enough that if I wasn’t so sure, I would have doubted I’d even heard it.
It was enough, though, to guide me the right way.
It was coming from a bedroom – not the one we’d used before – but it was close to the stairs and I could make it to the door in a couple of quick steps.
Pushing past a wall of fear, I took those steps, slamming myself into the door as I struggled with the handle, my weapons making the process awkward and noisy.
The door bounced open under my weight, revealing a small bedroom only dimly lit by the moon filtering through the thin curtains over the window.
A form on the bed sat upright, gasping at the intrusion. I lunged towards the bed, finding the last reserves of my energy. Experience taught me to drop the knife and raise the shovel, ready.
The shovel hit with a loud crack, only clipping my intended target of its head and instead slamming most of the force into her shoulder.
Shock had me divert my blow at the last minute, my reflexes taking over. My fear caught up and I stumbled backwards, grabbing the knife from the floor, letting the shovel slip from my hands.
She had cried out in pain, but now she looked at me, the terror in her face plain even in this darkness. It was then I saw I’d been right, that it was her, and not my imagination playing me.