A chilling wind made the young woman pull her coat tighter around her shivering body, not that it did much good. It was nearing freezing temperatures, and the sun hadn't even gone down completely yet. She paused to look back, the last few rays peaking over the mountains, casting long branching shadows everywhere that could be seen. The trees stood around her, looking almost threatening in the dim light. How fitting, she thought to herself, and continued on her way.
The leaves crunched under her feet as she walked deeper into the forest, and she found herself listening intently to that steady beat. It was the only sound she heard for quite a while, the night time creatures not yet awake. She was glad for that, as she wanted to be as far away from her little town as she could get. The last thing she wanted was for her parents to find her half eaten corpse, rotting away in the dirt.
The light had been completely gone for some time before she heard the first lonely howl, long and low. It echoed, distorted so much she couldn't quite tell how far it was. The soft chirps of insects began to fill the air, replacing the song birds she used to love. A feeling of hopeless knotted her stomach, but she ignored it. It didn't matter anymore, how she felt, now did it?
She lost track of exactly how long she walked, but she'd gotten off the trail, and the trees were getting much closer together. No one ever came in this far, and she was getting tired. She wasn't sure if it was the frost that drained her, or if it was the exertion on her decaying body, or perhaps a mixture of both. With a soft sigh, she sat down at the base of a large tree, and pulled out the dagger she'd kept hidden in her coat pocket.
She admired the blade for a moment, the metal flashing dully in the very faint light. The moon was full, and should have kept everything in perfect view, but the leaves blocked all but a few sparing drops that flickered with the leaves. The woman was actually quite grateful for that, so she couldn't see her death coming. She pressed the knife to the back of her hand and drew it across quickly, forming a faint crimson line that quickly leaked onto her skin and dripped to the ground. There, now all she had to do was wait. The hypothermia would ensure she didn't feel it, the wolves would ensure she was never found. She'd be forgotten, and her family wouldn't have to suffer her withering away before their eyes.
She lay back and closed her eyes, and began to wait. What little body heat she'd kept from the long trek began to fade, stolen away by the harsh winter night. It was cold enough to snow, had there even been a single cloud in the sky. She found herself unable to keep from curling up into a little ball, despite the fact that the whole point was to lower her temperature. She thought perhaps she should take off her coat, but she couldn't bring herself to do so.
"I-I-I'll f-feel w-warm a-a-a-g-gain soon..." she stuttered out loud, wishing she could believe make herself believe that. Yes, one of the symptoms of late hypothermia was a FALSE sense of heat, but she didn't think she'd last long enough to feel it. The wolves had to smell the blood by now, right? They'd gotten rather quiet.
Actually, now that she thought about of it, the bugs weren't making any noise, either. The only thing she could hear was her own ragged breath and the chattering of her teeth.
She opened her eyes again, wincing as the air burned them. She was just as alone as when she'd first sat with her back to the tree. Yet...something seemed off, somehow. It shouldn't be so quiet. A tingle went down her back that had nothing to do with the cold, and with slow, stiff movements, she pulled herself up again.
It felt as though someone else was there, and if that was true, she had to get away. If she was caught out there, whomever it was would probably drag her back to town, and then she'd have to explain to everyone why she wandered out there in the first place. As quietly as she could, she started stumbling even deeper into the forest. The icy wind blew, biting through her clothes into her skin. Her muscles protested every movement, far too numb to be able to carry her far. Just a few feet from where she started, she collapsed face first onto the ground. She was just so-so cold, she couldn't...
Then she heard it, the crunch of dry plants under somethings weight. The woman curled up where she lay, trying to keep her gasping breath under control. Maybe if she kept very still they wouldn't notice-
Crunch, crunch, crunch...
The footsteps drew closer, and she felt her heart sink. Though she was far from comfortable, she was sure that she wasn't going to die yet. She hadn't been out long enough. She couldn't go back and face her family again, she just couldn't. She was so tired of that 'I pity you' look they always gave her, the whispered conversations that stopped whenever she entered the room. She was tired of waiting for her organs to fail, listening to her mother cry and her father yell. Why couldn't everyone leave her alone and let her go in peace?
Whomever it was didn't say a word, which was odd. No, 'Are you okay?' or, 'Miss? Hello?' Most people would say something like that when walking up to a potential corpse, right? She felt pressure on the small of her back, but she was so numb she couldn't tell what it was. A hand, she guessed, because she doubted they would step on her. After a moment, it moved to a place just under her ribs, and another pressure was placed on the side exactly opposite. Then she was in the air, seemingly effortlessly going up higher...and higher... how could this...? No one was this tall...
Whomever...whatever it was, turned her around, and she found herself looking into a smooth, blank surface. Confusion clouded her thoughts for a moment, and she looked down, seeing a neat black suit. She was rather far up off the ground, putting him, for the clothes seemed masculine to her, at least ten foot tall or so. High enough their heads were brushing the bottom leaves of the trees. Again, she looked up to the pale, featureless thing in front of her, and realized that this man... that what she was gazing at was his head, and he didn't have a face...
A sound not quite a scream tore through her throat and she squirmed half heartedly in his grasp. She was so cold, so numb, that she couldn't put up much of a fight. In the back of her mind she realized that even if he dropped her she wouldn't be able to get away. There was no way she could run in this state, she couldn't even walk. Though she realized this deep in the back of her mind, the panic surged through her. She kicked and writhed, but each movement was pathetically weak. After only a few seconds her energy was spent, and she stilled. Her breath was painful as she stared into the place where his eyes should have been, fearfully wondering what she'd gotten herself into.
He tilted his head a little, as if somehow meeting her gaze. There was movement at his back, and with a quiet yelp she saw several thick, dark shadows twist around him towards her. They wrapped tightly around her and pulled her close to his thin frame. She continued to writhe around desperately, terrified of what what this...this thing might have had in mind.
Despite her movements he held her firm, though she didn't feel pain yet. But she felt something else. Something that made her still despite the stabbing fear. Warmth. His body heat had begun to seep through her clothes, and though she'd been trying to induce hypothermia she responded, clinging to him as tightly as she could manage. Mentally she swore at herself, but it felt wonderful, and she couldn't bring herself to continue fighting.
After a moment of utter stillness, the creature started moving, carrying her through the forest. A soft, defeated whimper came from her, and she waited for them to go wherever he decided to take her. What else could she do?
She felt her head began to buzz softly, her eyelids begging to grow heavy. She could feel her consciousness begin to slip, and before she could stop it she drifted off into a deep sleep.
The air was still, but stuffy, so much so it was slightly difficult to breath, The thick sent of dampness and moss filled her nose, and tickled the back of her tongue. A dull ache throbbed a slow beat into her back, the hard ground pressing hard into it without mercy. She rolled over, trying to relieve the pressure, only to get a blindingly bright light directly in her face. With a moan, she pulled the blanket up above her head, trying to block it out.
Blanket? But how...?
She sat up and looked around, the lingering darkness fleeing as she jolted completely awake. She was surrounded by dark brown rock, the inside of a cave. There was an opening just a few feet from her, the sun shinning in from outside. All at once the memories of the night before came back to her. The man, dressed sharply in suit and tie, his face nonexistent, whisking her away from what was meant to be her grave.
The back of her neck prickled, and she rolled over, getting up to face him. He stood at the back of the cave, hunched over, too tall to be standing up straight. He didn't move, just watched her, watched her without eyes. She realized she was clutching the blanket to her chest, and had to force herself to let it go. Gathering up her courage, she spoke as evenly as she could, "W-who are you?"
He just tilted his head, making her frown, "Why did you bring me here?"
At this, one of the shadowy things came from his back. It was wrapped around the blade she'd taken with her, the dry blood still staining it's otherwise shinny surface. He then lifted one bony hand, a long, pale finger pointing at her. At her hand, the one she'd cut. On reflex, she looked down, and saw that it was wrapped in a soft white clothe, bandaging the wound she'd inflected upon herself. She quickly hid it behind her, though he'd obviously seen it already. Whom else could have tended to it?
Why were you in the middle of my forest with a bloody dagger?
She started as she heard his voice, but didn't know where it came from. It was deep and smooth, almost soothing.
"Um, I...defended myself...from an animal...with it." she answered, folding her arms over her chest, realizing just how fake her lie sounded. "Okay, so I cut myself. Lot's of people do that, it's not so unusual is it? Why am I even talking to you? You...you kidnapped me. How can you even talk, you have no mouth?"
You were out in the dead of night, in the middle of winter. You cut yourself in a place filled with predators. It seems to me you were seeking out death.
Yes. You can't lie to me. You're ill, aren't you? Dying, in fact. Very slowly.
At this she looked down, feeling her skin start to prickle under his gaze. "Fine. Yes."
Instead of cutting your life short, you could make yourself useful.
She scoffed, "Yeah? How? I'm just a drain on my family like this."
This is true. However, you could be of quite some use to me.
He let this sentence linger between them for a long moment, until she looked back up at him. He still watched her, and in one shadowy appendage he held a pure white plastic mask. He held it out to her, and she took it. It was light, cool, smooth to the touch. It had a stretchable band to fix it to the wearers head.
Stay with me, and I'll teach you how to be useful. Try to leave, and I'll grant your wish myself.
"Do as you say or die?"
If you wish to put it in such a way...yes.
She stared down at the thing, lost in thought. She'd tried to kill herself, but she hadn't had a choice. If, if she could be helpful to someone...
She put on the mask, and returned to gazing at the man. "What would you have me do?"
He reached a thin, bony hand forward and brushed it through her hair softly, Patience, child. You have much to learn.