So, this is the last chapter, very sad, but fear not because there is a sequel already in the works. The more reviews I get for this final chapter, the quicker the sequel will be posted. Hope everyone has enjoyed this story, it's been fun.
As far as Richard knew, the three disfigured men were out there, watching him, waiting for him to make a move so that they could kill him, just like they killed everyone else. A part of him was experiencing what had driven Ramsey to the branch of the oak tree, but the still sane part of him forced himself to remind under the cover of the brush until his watchers got tired of this game and vanished off once more into the woods. Though he was terrified, lost and alone, Richard figured that he could remain where he was sitting until that happened, just as long as he didn't stare at the swaying corpse that had once been Ramsey.
He wondered whether or not they were still out there after all and began to realize that this was the part about being stalked that drove people to insanity, the constant wonder of being watched, of whether or not the attackers were really hiding around the corner or had given up long before.
Richard figured that if he wasn't too afraid, he would stick his head up and take a long. However, he'd rather not end up with an arrow through his forehead.
* * *
As they headed through the woods, Sadie recounted the events that had taken place after she and Richard had found Virginia murdered on the trail. She explained how she had been separated from her friends and how she had seen the mountain men dragging along Kyle's corpse, which was why she had reason to believe that everyone else was dead. Chris tried to offer words of comfort to the youngest Burlingame, though he found the words coming out halfhearted; what Sadie was saying was probably true, her friends probably were dead. He had, after all, seen the carnage that the inbred rednecks could leave behind and it wouldn't do anyone any good to pretend that Sadie wasn't the only one that had gotten away. Chris, however, didn't say anything aloud other then the forced comfort words, figuring that would be better motive to keep moving, before the men finally did catch up with them.
* * *
She, Jessie and Chris had been walking for twenty minutes before Sadie began hearing the sounds of motion coming from in front of them. Abruptly, they stopped moving, so they could listen to the noises better; a few yards ahead, the spidery miniature pine trees were shivering with movement, the shaking brush accompanied by almost inhuman grunts. The grunts were drowned out by a inane laugh, which made Jessie's skin crawl; she had never heard anything laugh like that after escaping the woods the first time. The sound was so devilish, so inhuman, containing complete lunacy.
The mountain men were directly in front of them, not bothering to be silent as they hid in the shadows, their grunts the only sounds in the once silent woods. From where he stood, Chris couldn't see the men, but there was no doubt in his mind that the murderous inbreeds lay in front of them. "What do we do now?" Jessie whispered, taking his hand and squeezing tightly for comfort.
"Turn around." Sadie mumbled, moving close to her sister. "Go back the way we came." She was shaking again, afraid of being caught, of being seen, of never getting out of the woods.
Chris shook his head, not bothering to glance behind him to look at the girl. "They could hear us, we can't the chance." He didn't know what other chance they had, but he didn't want to risk stepping upon a stick and getting his head loped off.
"So what do we do? Stand here forever? They could turn around and see us, or when it gets light again." Jessie remarked, voice tight with fear. "We can't stay here."
Sadie gazed around, looking for a way out and knowing that she would find none; she thought that all her problems would be over when Jessie and Chris had found her, yet it seemed as though they were getting much worse. Jessie was right, they couldn't stay in their spots forever, yet Chris was right as well; it was dark and they couldn't be sure of their footing. Either way, it seemed as though they had lost.
As she scanned the woods, her eyes lifted toward the tree tops and the jutting branches, some so low that she could reach up and grab them without even trying. Sadie suddenly jerked her head back in her sister's direction and whispered, "The trees. We could climb into the trees and hide there until they went away."
Jessie glanced past her sister to the tree behind her, with its many low branches crocked and skewed, as though begging to be climbed. "That's it." She mumbled, seeing the safety in her sister's plan. They could hide in the trees as long as necessary, provided they could climb them without being noisy or being seen.
Sadie crept the few feet toward the nearest tree as soundlessly as possible, grabbing the lowest branch and lifting herself off the ground and swinging herself onto the tree. Climbing the tree proved to be much easier then she had first thought and soon she was twenty feet from the ground, arms wrapped tightly around the thickest branch that she had decided to stay upon.
Chris watched Jessie as she scaled the tree, assuring himself that she was safe before beginning to climb himself, already tired muscles burning with exhaustion and stress. He forced himself to continue climbing until he reached the branch just below Jessie's, sighing tiredly as she laid his cheek against the cool bark.
Sadie scanned the woods beneath her, feeling slightly dizzy and nervous at being up so high; she had never liked height, yet here she was, perched in a tree. It was amazing what you could do when you were trying to save your life. She glanced to where the men were supposedly sitting and gripped the branch even tighter when she made out one of them, a large double-bladed axe sitting in his lap. Gazing past the men, she noticed something that made her heart stop; Richard was sitting beneath the protection of a leafy bush, only feet from Ramsey's corpse, which dangled from which appeared to be the trunk of a tree.
"Oh my God." She whispered to her sister, who was directly below her. "I can see Richard, he's still alive." She felt tears of relief prickle her eyelids but quickly blinked the tears away as she watched her boyfriend. Sadie wished she could call out to them, but that was certainly give away their tall hiding spot.
Jessie turned her head to look where her sister had indicated and saw that the mountain men were clearly stalking Richard, waiting for an opportune time to kill him. She hoped that they never got it.
* * *
In the West Virginia woods, the night lasted much longer then it did in the outside world; the thick canopy of trees held in the darkness until the rays of the rising sun managed to penetrate the black. Richard watched the steady rise of the sun through the trees, not feeling at all assured by the growing light; in the daylight, his attackers would simply have a clearer shot at him.
After staying awake all night, he had decided that it might better his chances of survival if he tried to slip away through the underbrush as silently as possible. Maybe he could get a good distance away from his disfigured stalkers before they even noticed he was gone. Richard stretched out his legs, which had been in the same position, and winced as his muscles began to unwind. He tried to make his legs as loose as possible, who knew when he'd be running again?
* * *
Jessie yawned as she shifted her position, though being careful not to fall from her treetop perch; she had moved off the end of the limb and was now leaning against the base of the tree, legs dangling below her. One branch above her, Sadie was apparently asleep, lying motionless with her cheek pressed against the bark, breathing slow and rhythmic. Jessie only hoped her sister didn't suffer a nightmare and jerk herself right off the branch she was straddling.
Chris was awake as well, every so often whispering parts of conversation to her, though it was difficult for her to answer so that he could hear her and not catch the attention of the mountain men. "I'm really glad we found Sadie." He muttered, glancing up at the brunette with a smile upon his face.
Jessie returned the smile, gazing into his eyes. "Me too. Thank you." She spoke sincerely, her smile fading slightly.
"For what?" Chris questioned, cocking his head somewhat comically as he regarded his girlfriend.
"For everything." Jessie answered as though it was the most obvious thing in the world. "For coming with me, for making sure that I never stopped, for keeping me sane." If it weren't for Chris, she would have collapsed long ago, she would have never made it out of the woods all those months ago. She owed him her life and her sanity.
Chris reached up and entwined his fingers with hers, squeezing gently. Jessie didn't know it, but she had saved him just as much as he had saved her. Perhaps he would tell her someday, just how much he owed her...when the setting was more romantic.
Sadie jerked awake so suddenly that she startled both Jessie and Chris, almost losing her grip on the branch that she had her arms wrapped around. She looked around frantically, as though she couldn't remember where she was, before sighing deeply and glancing over to where her sister was sitting. Sadie opened her opened her mouth to speak to Jessie but her eyes drifted past her sister, toward something more important; the mountain men were finally moving, toward Richard, who was stretching his legs, completely unaware.
"Richard." She whispered, wanting to shout his name but her throat was so dry that only a whisper escaped. Jessie turned her head in the direction that had captured her sister's attention and saw the man that had killed Scott notching an arrow into his bow. It was obvious to her that Sadie was going to try and warn Richard, but it was even more obvious that she was going to be too late.
Sadie was attempting to fumble her way off her tree limb, preparing to scale down the tree in time to save Richard from being murdered. She glanced over to where her boyfriend was sitting and saw that the archer was taking aim at her boyfriend through the bushes that surrounded him. "Richard!" She screamed, nearly losing her footing on the branch.
At the sound of Sadie's voice, Richard looked up, glancing in the direction the sound had come from with a confused look upon his face. He noticed, much to his amazement, his girlfriend, still alive, just as the burly archer released his arrow, which had been perfectly aimed to break through the foliage and catch him in the throat. Richard's eyes grew wide as his mouth dropped open, blood trickling down his lips as he fell to the ground, eyes open in shock, gazing sightlessly before him.
Sadie screamed when she saw the arrow slice into her boyfriend's throat, losing her balance on branch she was clinging to and falling from the tree. Jessie cried out her sister's name and tried desperately to grab for her, though she knew it was hopeless; she swung herself onto Chris' branch and began to descend from the tree as quickly as she could without falling herself.
The other two mountain men had been altered to Sadie's presence by her screaming and had been trying to figure out where the sound had come from while Richard had been murdered. Upon seeing her fall from the tree, the three-fingered one wrapped his hands around the axe in his lap and got to his feet, heading toward where she had landed, his skinny brother laughing shrilly at the prospect of murder.
Sadie lay motionless against the pine-needle covered ground, stunned from her fall, through which had suffered a broken arm and had ruptured a disk. Slowly, her eyes fluttered open and saw first her sister and Chris quickly descending the tree to come to her aid. Groaning, she slowly rolled onto her stomach, though she wished she hadn't, for her back and arm cried out in pain; she glanced in front of her, heart catching in her throat.
One of the disfigured men was heading toward her, axe hefted in his hands, bloodlust clear upon his face. "Help me." She mumbled, unable to raise her voice any higher, lifting her head in hopes of shouting for her sister's attention. "Jessie. Jessie, help me!" She cried as the man got closer.
Upon hearing her sister's cry for help, Jessie looking over to where she had fallen and saw a sight that was much more like deja vu then anything else she had encountered in the past twenty-four hours. The bulky man was advancing toward her sister with his axe raised, and Sadie was completely defenseless, too stunned and bruised from her fall to even move.
Jessie cried out in desperation as the man swung the axe, which connected with Sadie's neck and easily cleaved through the bone, muscle and gristle. "No!" Jessie cried, tears filling her eyes as she stared at her sister's headless corpse.
She felt Chris' hand upon her shoulder but he offered little comfort; she was past the stage for comfort, the grief that had constricted her heart had suddenly turned to anger. These disfigured murderers had taken so much from her, it was time they suffered. Jessie leapt from the tree, not bothering to climb the last few feet, and landed beside her sister's corpse, almost losing her footing, though somehow remaining standing. She looked at the man that had murdered her sister and her best friend and felt her heart skip a beat when she saw the crocked smile upon his face.
With a yell of primal rage, Jessie rushed toward the man, who saw her coming and easily knocked her aside. She collided with the trunk of a nearby tree and crumpled, sliding to the ground. The last thing she heard was Chris shouting her name, before everything went completely black.
* * *
When Jessie finally awoke, it was dusk and the woods were silent and empty once more. Despite the throbbing in her head and haziness of her vision, she struggled to her feet, gazing around her, searching for Chris. She was alone, however, with no sign of Chris or the mountain men. The pine needles that carpeted the ground with askew, showing signs of struggle, with several spots of congealed blood evident. Even her Sadie's corpse was gone.
Jessie stared in disbelief, unable to comprehend what must have happened while she had been unconscious. The men had taken Chris, or perhaps even killed him, and she was all alone once more.
To be continued...