I peeked over my blanket to glance at the clock next to my bed. Nearly midnight. Mom should be asleep by now, I figured. I slowly slid the covers off of me as I crept out of bed.
My sneakers were waiting right next to me on the floor. After pulling them on, I opened the window inch by inch. Peeking out into the cold night air, I wrapped my arms around the tree outside my room – the leaves a cheerful green due to the new summer season – and pulled myself out. I climbed down the tree, going to check on the Giant in the barn. Holding my breath as I opened the doors just a crack. He was asleep and doing fine. A small smile on my lips after I shut the doors, as quietly as I could.
As I strolled through the woods, I tugged my jacket closer around me. Yeah, Mom had told me not to go out at night alone, but it felt nice to be on my own sometimes. I ran my fingers through my hair, taking a refreshing breath and watching it as I let it out.
Then, out of nowhere, I got this feeling. An uneasiness in my stomach like someone was… with me.
Or watching me.
I stopped in my tracks as panic unconsciously filled me. My breath caught in my throat and I froze completely. I was trying to listen over the sound of my heart beating rapidly in my chest, and I had honestly never felt so frightened of something I couldn't see. Whenever I heard something in the forest before, I always reasoned with myself that it was an animal, so that's what I tried to do.
To my right, I heard a twig snap. It was way too close for comfort and I suddenly wished I had brought a flashlight or something to defend myself with. I heard the same noise again, almost like whatever – or whoever – it was was trying to scare me.
It's just a deer, I thought to myself, but I wasn't very convinced.
"Hogarth," someone said, just above a whisper, terrifying me.
That was enough to motivate me to go back home. I turned and ran as fast as I could. I was pretty sure that I was going the right way, but my senses were completely clouded by fear and the darkness was so thick around me I could hardly see a thing.
I could hear someone running after me and I made the mistake of looking behind me. Before I could process anything, I felt all the air being knocked out of me as someone kicked me in the stomach. I fell back into the dirt, groaning as I tried to pull myself back up. Then came a sharp pain on the left side of my face. Something had definitely hit me.
My bleeding was obvious, even to me. I gave up trying to spit the metallic tasting stuff out of my mouth. Everything hurt and I was afraid that if I tried to stand up, whoever was there would hurt me more.
So I closed my eyes and let myself fall into the darkness.