Hand in hand, the two girls ran. Rose allowed the younger to lead her, sincerely hoping that she knew where she was going.
Rose kept her eyes focused, always facing forward. She didn’t recognise any of this. They were beyond the hallways now and seemed to be in an open courtyard of some kind, surrounded by oddly shaped rocks. It was eerie.
At least they were free of the labyrinthine corridors. So many narrow hallways, so many rooms. They all looked the same. Had Rose been on her own, she never would have made it out. It was a wonder that Megan knew her way, perhaps that was a benefit of being with Poer. She’d clearly had free roam of the facility. Rose wondered how many times she’d traversed the endless hallways, mapping them out, practising for her daring escape.
She had to admit it. Without Megan… she’d be lost.
The girls slowed to a halt. Perhaps even with Megan…. The brunette did know where she was going, didn’t she? “Please tell me we’re not lost,” the redhead uttered.
Megan looked to her, an apologetic smile on her face.
That did not bode well.
Suddenly, they heard it, in the distance.
The action, the finality, the implication.
Rose whipped her head around, eyes wide.
He… did he do it?
More gunshots. Two more.
He’d done it. He’d killed her.
Kayla… was dead.
That was a good thing… wasn’t it? She wouldn’t be able to stop them now. She wouldn’t come after them. She wouldn’t run to the director. She wouldn’t be able to summon the guards.
Rose swallowed the lump in her throat and felt it settle in her stomach, adding to the nausea that was steadily consuming her. That woman had watched over her for so long, and now she was gone. Rose would never see her again. Kayla would never return, never smile, never laugh. She would never work, conduct her cruel experiments, or sneer down at anybody ever again. Her entire existence had been erased.
Did it have to go down this way? Did she have to die? Did Poer have to be the one to kill her? This was unreal.
The lump returned, greater than before. Rose hardened her heart, steeled her resolve, and swallowed her sentimentality. It had to go, it wouldn’t help her. It had to be this way, it was for the best. For them to make it out alive, that woman had to die. She deserved it. She had betrayed them, betrayed her. She had it coming. She got exactly what she deserved.
But there was still that sickly chill, that unnerving feeling that Rose couldn’t ignore.
It rested in the pit of her stomach and spread throughout her body like worms, infecting her, infesting her. Even with Poer’s jacket, the girl felt cold.
Rose turned to the brunette beside her. She too, was looking back to the source of that sound, the gunshot. Her eyes, so full of worry, filled with concern. She cared for the doctor, deeply. Her doctor, her father, was now a murderer, and he’d done it for her, for them. So they could escape, so they could have a chance at a better life.
Megan probably wasn’t aware that Poer was capable of this, of killing.
She wasn’t the only one.
Megan knew the man better than anyone, but this had caught even her off guard. She was shaken, her resolve lost. Rose could feel it, but they couldn’t stop now.
Rose held the younger girl close, the way Kayla had done to her. She could feel the embarrassment burning in her cheeks, but she had to do this. Megan needed her.
“We have to keep going,” Rose told her. “If we heard that sound….”
“Then anyone could have,” Megan finished her sentence.
“Right.” Sure, that woman wouldn’t be calling the guards, but what good was silencing her if the sound of her execution alerted everyone in the facility? “Kayla didn’t need to set off the alarm.” Negativity stained Rose’s words. “That gunshot might just have done it for her.”
Megan considered the redhead’s pessimism for a moment, before shaking her head. “I think the walls back there are soundproofed, we might be alright.”
“All the same, we should take this chance. He gave it to us. We shouldn’t waste it.”
“No.” Megan’s voice was soft, but her words were firm. “He’s coming with us.”
“So what, we just wait here? We’ll be sitting ducks if anyone comes to investigate.”
Megan met her gaze. For a long moment, she simply stared into Rose’s eyes.
Just as the silence between them became overpowering, Megan released a sigh and dropped her gaze, slowly nodding her head.
“You’re right,” she finally conceded, her voice low, dejected, defeated. “We should keep going.”
“Do you know where to go from here?”
Megan looked around. “I’ve never actually been out this far before.”
“That’s promising,” Rose snarked. She hadn’t meant to sound ungrateful, but the derision had penetrated her words while she wasn’t looking. She owed this chance at freedom entirely to Poer, she knew that, but this plan of his was falling apart.
“I think if we just keep going straight… it’s this way!” the younger girl exclaimed.
Rose simply nodded and allowed Megan to lead the way.
After a few more minutes, the girls came to another halt. The courtyard had come to an end.
All around them were stone walls; the paved stones behind them were cracked; the ground before them turned to gravel. They were boxed in.
In the distance, the far wall was covered in moss. Several trees had been planted, and green growth took over from the dead grey that made up the rest of this accursed facility.
Was this a dead end?
Rose looked to her companion, but Megan matched her blank expression point for point. What were they supposed to do now? Where were they supposed to go?
Suddenly, the younger girl turned and looked behind them as their ears were met with the sound of pounding footsteps and heavy breathing.
They weren’t alone.
Ollie quickly approached them. “Come on, why are you stopping?!” he demanded. “We have to go, now!”
“Where’s the way out?!” Megan cried back.” She had a point. From what Rose could see, they were at an impasse.
“Over there,” Ollie directed. “Follow me.” He continued his mad dash toward the treeline. They hurried after him and their grey surroundings gradually turned to a dark green. The paved stone floor gave way entirely to gravel, and the open courtyard shifted to a dark forest. Tree branches, shrubs, sticks, and even knee-high grass rushed against them. Rose was inwardly glad for Poer’s jacket, or the greenery would be assaulting and scratching the salt out of her arms, just as it was the skin of her legs.
It was almost as though the vegetation were trying to stop them from proceeding, as though trying to warn them, telling them to go back.
Rose chanced a look behind her. Just at that moment, an iron gate slammed down behind them, locking them out of the facility, blocking any attempt of return.
“We can’t go back,” the redhead said aloud.
“There’s nothing for us back there anyway,” Poer replied. “Come on, we have to keep moving. We’re getting close. We’re almost there, almost free.”
“I’m getting a really bad feeling about all this,” Megan voiced.
“Just keep moving.”
It wasn’t as though they had a choice, but Rose couldn’t help the niggling feeling in the pit of her stomach. “Something about this is wrong,” she quietly voiced.
“Yeah…” Megan agreed, “but there’s nothing we can do about it now. We’re past the point of no return. Just keep going, and hope for the best.”
“Some plan,” Rose derided. It was so dark, she could barely see in front of her.
“Here,” Poer said, handing something to each of the girls. Rose felt the thing in her hands. As she fumbled with it, her thumb brushed against a switch and the end lit up.
“Oh, a flashlight!” Megan exclaimed. “That should make things easier.” Rose wasn’t so optimistic, however. Why did they each need one? Either Poer wasn’t confident in their reliability, or… “Please tell me we’re not going to split up.”
“Bad news,” Poer said. “We’re going to split up.”
“But why?!” Megan asked. “we just got together.”
“It’ll be okay, but I don’t think we’re alone here. If we move separately, it’ll be easier for you girls to hide. We’ll be harder to spot.”
“You think there are guards out here?” Megan asked him.
“That gate just closed on its own. The front gate isn’t automated like that. Furthermore, I never opened it. It was set up, ready, waiting for us. I’d suspect Kayla… but maybe somebody else knew what was going on tonight. My brother, for instance.”
“What makes you so sure?”
“Think about it,” Poer stated. He turned around, looking them dead in the eye. “Somebody had to be standing by, controlling that gate… and it sure as hell wasn’t Kayla.”
Megan flinched slightly from the directness of Poer’s clouded confession. Rose on the other hand, looked beyond it. She didn’t care about that, there were more important things to worry about.
“In other words,” she stated, the ice in her voice matching Poer’s own dry, serious tone, “you’ve unwittingly walked us all into a trap.”
“To be precise,” the man corrected, “I’ve willingly walked us into a trap.”
“I’ve intentionally walked us into a trap, knowing full well what could happen as a result. It was the only way, we have to take the risk.”
“I don’t get it,” Megan complained.
“I thought you could read people,” Rose criticised. From what the redhead had managed to gather about Megan, she was supposed to be able to read minds. Even if someone was being evasive, she should have been able to see through it and understand just what they really meant. “Why couldn’t you see this coming?”
“I can’t see anything in here!” the brunette replied. “I can’t read people if I can’t even see them.”
“This was the only way,” Ollie explained. “This is the only exit, the only way out. I had to take a chance.”
“So… Kayla wasn’t the only one setting traps to catch us,” Rose concluded.
“Yeah. We’re not out of the woods yet.”
Rose let out an exasperated sigh at the painful pun. “I can see that, Doctor, it’s obvious.”
“It was a metaphor.”
“It was stupid. Just… just tell us what to do.”
“This forest is dark, cramped, and a little confusing, but if we keep going straight, we’ll eventually find our way out. If we can all get out undetected and meet up in the clearing ahead, we’ll be home free.”
Rose instantly saw a flaw in the idea. “This forest acts as much as cover for us as it does an obstacle. We can hide in here. Once we get outside, we’ll be wide open.”
“So what do you propose?” he asked her, “Would you rather hide out in this forest for the rest of your life?”
Rose looked away, not that the gesture went noticed in the surrounding darkness. Poer was right, she didn’t want to remain lost in the dark forest forever, but hiding out here had to be preferable to whatever would happen to them should they be caught. Was the dark forest really any worse than the white room?
“You have a point though,” Ollie conceded. “Once we get out of here, we will be exposed. I’ve already made preparations for that, but we have to actually get out in the open to take advantage of them. Trust me, once we’re clear of this forest, we’ll be able to move much faster.”
“I hope you’re right.”
“So do I,” the man echoed.
Poer’s faith in his own plan was far from reassuring.
“Is that good enough?” Megan asked, looking to Rose, interrupting her thought.
The redhead shook the doubt from her shoulders. “It has to be,” she told the younger girl. “It’s the only chance we’ve got. Right, Doctor?”
“Right…” the man agreed, clearly eager to move on. “Kayla and my brother are crafty… but so am I. Are we ready?”
“Let’s do it!” Megan all but shouted.
“Might as well,” Rose added, “but this had better work.”
“Alright, let’s get going then,” Poer directed. “Rose, keep straight. It’s the fastest route.”
“What about me?” Megan asked.
“Come here,” Ollie said, guiding her with his arm. “There’s a path veering east, this way. You just follow it. I’ll give you more details in a minute.” He turned back to the redhead. “Rose, your path is the most direct, just keep going straight ahead and you should reach the other side first. When you do, find a secluded vantage point and keep a lookout. Watch out for any guards and wait for Megan to emerge from the forest. When she does, signal her and keep her safe until I get there. I’m counting on you.
“I’m working under the assumption that you’ll be the first one out of course, but don’t feel like you have to rush. Be careful, take your time. If in doubt, shut off your light and find some place to hide until the coast is clear. Don’t get caught.”
“What kind of advice is that?” Rose dryly complained.
“That goes for all of us,” Poer announced, ignoring the remark. “If any one of us is found or captured, it’ll put the rest in jeopardy.”
“I’m not an idiot, Doctor.”
“Then off you go. Good luck.”
Rose nodded and made for the path Poer had laid out for her. Just before she disappeared into the shrubbery, she turned back to face them. It was the last time she’d see them before they all—hopefully—emerged safely beyond the forest. “Thanks,” she said, “for everything.”
Poer nodded, and she was off, making her slow, careful, deliberate way toward the clearing up ahead, to her freedom.
There, her life would begin.
This was it.
Megan watched her go, watched her walk away, slowly, silently, until she was out of sight, until she was gone.
Megan stared into the treeline that had swallowed her only friend, until Ollie managed to get her attention. “Okay, now for you,” he said, approaching her and reaching out a hand to ruffle the young girl’s hair.
He led her to the solid line of trees and gestured to an opening. “Just follow the path and you shouldn’t run into any problems. You’ll probably reach the end before me, so just find a place to hide and keep an eye out for Rose. Meet up with her and wait for me. Lie low and make sure you find a good hiding place with a view of your surroundings. There doesn’t seem to be anyone around right now, but there could be guards hiding in the forest, or even outside of it. Keep your guard up, it won’t help if we get captured after everything we’ve gone through to get here. Things have been going our way so far, but… just be careful.
Megan nodded, stepping closer to the man and wrapping her arms around him in a brief, but tight embrace.
She backed away, the sweet smile never leaving her. “See you on the other side, Daddy.” She then turned and made her way into the forest.
Slowly, carefully, the girl made her way through the prickly, thorny pathway that lay before her. She’d spent so much time traversing hallways this night. The one she was in now was no different. This was just another hallway, only much darker than the others.
Poer’s words echoed in her mind. Carefully, quietly. Don’t get caught. Were there likely to be people in this dark forest? Had the Director really posted guards outside the facility walls? Just to catch them off guard?
Rose supposed it was an acceptable countermeasure, a final line of defence in case they happened to get past Kayla, which, of course, they had. The woman had been sneaky and had allowed them free reign of the facility, just to get their hopes up, just so they would let their guards down.
It had worked.
The girl allowed a scowl to stain the unblemished skin of her soft, sheltered face. She never should have trusted the woman. Kayla had used her.
The girl stepped on a twig, her body freezing as the sound radiated in the silence surrounding her. She’d been careless, not looking where she was going.
Had anybody heard? Had anyone noticed? Was anyone nearby? The girl stood still for a moment. She couldn’t hear anything, but she had a feeling.
She peered out as far as she could in the oppressive darkness. No, there wasn’t anyone up ahead. Were they behind? Was she being followed?
She couldn’t continue to stand there. She had to keep going.
Rose moved on, unable to shake the feeling. She could sense a presence. Someone, or something, was watching her, following her. She could feel it. She increased her pace, breaking into a run.
The girl moved as fast as she could. What did it matter if the guards who may or may not even be up ahead heard her? There was a threat coming from behind. She had to push forward. She had to make her way out of this—
“Great,” the girl hissed, a fork in the road bringing her to a sudden, unexpected halt. Poer hadn’t said anything about this. “Keep going straight. Great advice, Doctor.” Why hadn’t he thought to tell her which path to take, did it matter? Why the branching paths, was this all a trap? Had the director designed this vegetation as a maze, just on the off chance that one of the lab rats happened to escape?
The girl shook her head. There wasn’t time to think. She just had to pick a direction and move forward. No looking back.
Her eyes suddenly widened, panic wrapping its clammy feelers around her body as she heard them approach. She turned around, searching frantically with her light.
The girl couldn’t see them, but they were close, she knew it; she could feel it, she could hear them, talking, whispering, murmuring amongst themselves. Rose couldn’t make out what they were saying, but she could hear their voices. They were getting louder, closer.
There were so many. It was overwhelming. Suddenly, one of the voices reached her. “Don’t stop,” it said. The girl’s eyebrows shot up. Weren’t they trying to catch her? Didn’t they want to return her? It spoke again. “Don’t stop. Keep going. Leave this place. Get out of here. Leave!”
“Who are you?!” the girl called out, her panic-stricken voice unable to control its own volume. “Where…?” that was a good question.
“Run away, little girl,” the voice taunted. “Leave, now, while you still can.”
Rose tentatively turned her back on the voice, and was reminded of her dilemma. “Which way?”
“Keep to the right… now go.”
“Go right, go now!”
Could she trust this person, this… presence? Were they really trying to help her? She didn’t want to fall into the same trap as she had with Kayla. For all she knew, this could simply be one of the facility’s workers trying to mess with her, leading her to a dead end. Did she really want to take the risk?
“What are you doing?” the voice commanded. “Move! Now!”
The girl shook the hesitation from her head and broke into a run. This changed nothing, she’d already decided. She couldn’t trust that voice, but she also couldn’t trust that it meant her harm.
The girl took a left and ran as fast as she could.
“Wrong way,” the voice called out. It was getting louder. It was getting closer. More voices joined the chorus. “Wrong way,” they chanted. “Go back… go back… go back!”
“Shut up!” the girl pleaded, covering her ears with her hands as she ran blindly. Head down, she ran headlong. Not even looking where she was going, the girl broke into a flat-out sprint, moving as fast as she could, the presence gaining on her.
“Shut up, leave me alone. Leave me alone!” she cried.
That was when she tripped.
The girl fell flat on her face, breathing heavily. She tasted dirt. The dank air, and the unpleasant scent of the surrounding trees invaded her. Her burning heart pounded against her aching chest. Her lungs were on fire, her throat hurt from all the air rushing in as she gasped and gulped lungful after lungful. Her frail muscles protested and tormented her. She wasn’t used to this. Part of her wanted to simply lie here. She’d spent most of her life locked away in a white room; she wasn’t exactly in the best shape athletically. Why hadn’t she ever once thought about exercising or working out in her seclusion? It wasn’t as though she didn’t have the time.
Rose’s entire body ached. She was so tired, but she couldn’t simply remain here.
The girl lifted her head and saw a figure up ahead. He was moving, running. She couldn’t make him out in the dim light. She couldn’t see his face, but he was coming for her, and coming fast.
Panic overwhelming her, Rose acted without thinking. She scrambled to her feet, only to trip over again, on the same root as before.
At that moment, she felt it move.
It wrapped around her ankle, trapping her, pulling her.
Eyes wide, she tried desperately to shake it off. She kicked out in desperation, in urgency, in futility.
If anything, her actions seemed to cause the hard, root-like vine to latch on tighter, pull harder, dragging her backward against the hard, dry, uncomfortable ground. Every sharp blade of overgrown grass felt like a razor against her skin as it scraped and cut her, as it attacked the soft, white flesh of her exposed limbs.
The girl tried with all her might to fight the thing off, clawing at the ground, the grass, the rocks. Low-hanging vines, branches, roots, bark; everything she touched seemed to break off in her hands.
This entire forest was against her.
Rose had no other choice. There was nothing else to hold onto. Her fingertips scraped along the ground, trying desperately to find a foothold. Something, anything. Her fingers dug into the hard ground, caked with dirt, fingernails cracking and breaking.
The ground behind her was a little softer, less arid. It wasn’t much, but it was just wet and soft enough. Her fingers broke through the tough surface, anchoring her.
If she could only pull herself free.
The girl struggled against the force pulling her. It took all her strength just to stand her ground. Her feeble arms were barely holding. She felt the dry mud between her fingers and under her nails. The thirsty ground crumbled beneath her lame, claw-like grasp.
The sentient vine continued to pull at her leg as it receded, retreating toward the stone-grey concrete of the facility, dragging the helpless girl with it.
Rose screamed. Fingers bled. Nails splintered as the ground crumbled, giving way to the force of that… thing.
A second vine wrapped itself around her other ankle as the girl tried desperately to find some way to fight back, clawing at anything and everything her hands could find.
It didn’t matter, the vines managed to pull harder than her strained muscles, faster, and with seemingly little effort. Kicking and screaming, Rose was being returned, against her will, to the hell she’d called home for the last ten years.
Not thinking, the girl’s body acted on its own, arms reaching out, grabbing at anything and everything within reach. As the vines pulled faster, her flailing arms began to bang and crash painfully against everything around her, until more vines approached to restrain them, forcing them behind her back, binding them uncomfortably in place, tying them together. She was every bit the prisoner, at the mysterious being’s mercy.
More vines came at her, wrapping themselves around her body like ropes, like snakes. The vines dragging her feet began to lift her upward. Her skirt rode up, exposing her thighs to the ground’s rough terrain, the forest floor’s unrelenting assault. The vines inverted her body, leaving her bruised and battered face to drag along the ground. The vines used the opportunity to enclose around her, binding her legs together, binding her arms behind her, wrapping her entire body like a spider trapping its prey. She was like a mummy wrapped in bandages.
She felt them coming for her head. They wrapped around her. They were hard, tight, prickly, painful, and uncomfortable.
The vines enclosed on her face, wrapping around it, wrapping her head to toe, pressing against her cheeks, squeezing her head, breaking the skin, cutting, drawing blood.
The vine passed over her mouth, through which her hoarse, burning throat continued to scream. The vine wrapped around her head and bound her tight, gagging her mouth, effectively silencing her, taking away her final form of protest, taking her last method of resistance.
The vines lifted her until she was fully inverted, hanging upside down. The ground below her sunk lower, falling further away. The terrified cry erupted from within, but came out as little more than a muffled moan of inept impedance.
It was hopeless, but she couldn’t give up, she had to fight back. Rose bit into the vine in her mouth, teeth clamping down.
Instantly, she regretted it. The thing was rock hard. It was like biting into wood. Her teeth hurt and her jaw ached, but it hadn’t been an entirely pointless move. She had managed to damage the thing. Her teeth dug into the woody, branch-like vine, and a foul substance began seeping out of it. Was it bleeding? The fluid was vulgar. It tasted… to be honest, the girl didn’t know. Nothing quite this offensive had ever passed through her lips. The only word her frantic mind could find to describe it was… rot.
Rose was filled with the ardent stench of wet mud and grass; she supposed the taste to be similar. The foul fluid continued to seep forth, bleeding from the damaged vine, gathering, pooling.
Rose opened her mouth. She couldn’t spit with the vine in the way, but perhaps if she opened wide enough, the accumulated fluid would simply dribble out….
She was to have no such luck. The vine in her mouth… it was swelling, enlarging, engorging.
No matter how wide she opened her jaw, the vine grew in thickness to fill the void.
The loathsome excretion was pooling in her mouth. It was disgusting; the taste, the smell, the surprising warmth of it. It made her gag. She almost vomited, and was eternally thankful that she hadn’t. In her current predicament, with her mouth covered and quickly filling with enough foul fluids as it was, it was truly a godsend that her body had resisted the urge to retch.
The vine’s sickening sap filled the back of her mouth and she began to choke. She felt it in her nose. It stung. It was like the time that man had taught her to swim all those years ago, but worse. Was she going to drown like this? Hanging upside down in this jungle? Strung up like prey for some giant, carnivorous spider? She would drown, with this foul taste on her tongue, with this foul stench in her lungs. She would drown. Unless….
It was horrible. There was no way to get rid of the sickly, repellent discharge filling her mouth. She had only one option.
Face contorting in despair and disgust, eyes watering, a sallow, pathetic whimper escaped her. The girl had no choice but to drink this foul creature’s strange, sickening, vomit inducing discharge.
The fluid burned her throat as it went down. Her head was swimming. The world spun uncontrollably around her and phased out of focus. She could feel her body growing numb. The tight bindings that had been so painful only a moment ago, no longer continued to bother her. Her rapid breathing slowed.
The vine in her mouth ceased releasing its vile, poisonous liquid, and instead began filling her with something else. Something worse. Something solid. Something hard.
Rose felt it first on her tongue. It started small. She imagined this was how wood was likely to taste. The vine was sprouting within her, growing out from the damaged vine that gagged her. It could do that?
There was only one place it could go. Would she… would she have to swallow this too? Could she? Would it tear through the back of her neck, or would it worm its way through her body?
Would it creep down her throat, into her stomach and beyond? She’d be impaled in reverse.
She’d be impaled!
The vine… it was going to grow through her, it was growing right through her body!
She felt it on her tongue, expanding, enlarging. It was round, not long like the vines, it was growing out evenly on all sides, round… like a bulb.
The bulb swelled, quickly filling her mouth, prying her jaw open.
Upside down, she hung, mouth forced open as wide as possible. There was no more slack. The bulb continued to push against her teeth. Her tongue was pinned to the bottom of her mouth.
The girl gave an uncomfortable groan. Saliva seeped from the corners of her mouth and ran down toward her forehead. There was nowhere else for the bulb to grow.
Only then, did it stop. When there was no more room for it to grow, the bulb settled, filling her entire mouth, right to the back. Just when Rose thought it couldn’t get any worse, the foul fluid returned.
The bulb began pumping her full of it’s sickening sap, and there was nowhere for it to go. Rose was forced to drink the sap, swallowing gulp after gulp. This creature was pumping straight down her throat, into her stomach. All the while, Rose was trying desperately to breathe through her nose, feeling light-headed.
The girl whimpered. This was almost worse than the experiments back in the white room. When they’d first started, their drugs had racked her entire body with intense, blinding pain. She’d passed out from it on more than one occasion.
Rose’s current predicament wasn’t quite as painful as that, but it was certainly uncomfortable, and she knew it was going to last much longer.
The sap eventually stopped spewing forth, though Rose hadn’t noticed at the time. The more she swallowed, the less aware she became. The sap had stopped, the well apparently running dry, though the bulb remained lodged in her jaw, plugging her.
Rose’s stomach hurt, her throat burned, her jaw ached, her head swam. The bindings bit. The world around her was spinning.
The girl cried, for the first time in years.
Her slow ascent continued, pulled upward by her feet. What was going to happen to her? How high was she? She’d surely be swallowed by the treeline soon.
The sounds that entered her were not reassuring. The hisses, the whispers, the creaks. There was some kind of monster up here. Would she be eaten, or was she going to become part of this strange, monstrous plant?
The girl’s heart suddenly stopped when she heard a loud crack. The single vine supporting her weight had broken. There was now nothing to hold her.
Limply, her body fell, plummeting fast toward the hard ground, head first.
The scream that burned in her throat sounded choked and muffled as it struggled against the bulb that gagged her.
The ground rushed closer. Her wide eyes couldn’t look away. The light was so dim, but Rose could see it clearly. It was coming closer, in all it’s hard, dry, punishing glory. She wouldn’t have been able to look away if she’d tried. She couldn’t manoeuvre, couldn’t struggle against her tight, restrictive binds. Her head was locked in a straight down position. Her face was forced to stare at the fast approaching ground, preparing for its ultimate outcome, planted within it. Rose had no other choice. She Braced for the impending impact.
Her eyes closed tight, waiting for her untimely death, her ultimate doom, her final fate: embedded within the ground, her body providing nutrients to the very forest that killed her.
Suddenly, she felt a force tug at her. She was being yanked backward, once again, by the feet. Another vine? Had it latched on while she was falling, after the first one had broken? Had the strange, sentient forest saved her? The force of the vine pulling at her feet had been enough to make her limp body fling out in front of it. She was now plummeting horizontally, parallel to the ground, flying backwards as much as she was falling downwards.
Her rapid descent inevitably came to a crashing halt when she hit the ground, unable to protect herself. Her arms remained tied behind her back, useless. She couldn’t save herself. As she landed, prone, her chest took the full brunt of the impact.
The breath caught in her lungs. Her horror-filled eyes stared straight ahead. Even without the vines wrapped tightly around her, she wouldn’t have been able to move. She was regretfully grateful for the numbing effects of the plant’s sap. Her entire body hurt, but she knew it would be much worse when the effects of the strange drug she’d been force-fed wore off.
Rose couldn’t do anything. She couldn’t move, couldn’t protest, couldn’t scream. She could barely even breathe.
The vine continued to drag her back toward the facility, and there was nothing she could do about it.
Eyes closed tight as they began to well up. Her shallow, laboured breaths weren’t enough to feed her insatiable appetite. It was too much of a struggle to stay awake.
She gave up.
There was nothing she could do, nobody was coming to save her. It was over.
The pain eased and the disjointed world around her faded to black. The girl phased out of consciousness.
She was going home.