The sharp dip of the carriage wheel jolted her awake. Clara looked around indifferently at the other passengers in the carriage, none of whom seem particularly interested in her either. It had been a long journey, almost two days' worth of traveling across the countryside by coach, with little sleep along the way. The paths were muddy and uneven, uncomfortable to say the least. Having to share a small space with three other people was unpleasant enough. She hadn't eaten a proper meal in days- losing your entire family in an instant tended to have that kind of effect on the appetite. But she couldn't change the past, only move on and hope to find a better life. Thus she booked her passage with what little money she had, and headed south on the coach. A distant aunt on her father's side had written to her after the accident, offering to take her in to live with her at her small cottage near the sea. She graciously accepted, knowing she had nowhere else to go.
Once again the back wheel of the carriage dropped and jostled her in her seat, only this time the carriage came to a sudden stop. She heard the elevated voices of the coachmen atop and hoped that the wheel wasn't broken. She waited for an attendant to inform them as to what had occurred, but no knock on the door came. Slowly she began to realize that something was wrong. Soon other voices of men could be heard outside, and her fellow passengers began to shiver with panic. Fearing the worst, they spoke of bandits, escaped madmen and murderers- no one daring to open the carriage door and look out. Suddenly the right side door flew open and a ragged looking bearded man dressed in black came into sight. He cackled with laughter and lunged for the neck of the stately looking woman beside him draped in pearls. As this struggle ensued Clara forced open the opposite door and sprinted into the woods that surrounded the muddy path. It was nearly dark and she had no idea where she was, but figured it was the only option. She had no idea how many men surrounded the carriage and didn't dare to waste a precious second looking back to try and found out.
Clara hoped she had escaped unnoticed, but within seconds of her flight out the carriage she heard the raspy shouts of the bearded man close at her heels.
"Not so fast, girly! The master will be especially pleased if we catch a young and pretty one!"
Clara was confident she could outrun the aging scoundrel, pushing her feet to the limit and plunging deeper into the dense woods. But surprisingly he kept her pace. She cursed the long, flowing dress she was wearing as it quickly got tangled in her legs, and she nearly stumbled on a tree stump. It was then that he was able to grab hold of the hood of her cape. As he yanked the fabric away, the golden waves that were once atop her head tumbled down with it and the ribbon fastener around her neck broke loose, revealing her uncommonly pretty face. Her cape flew back into the face of her pursuer who brashly pushed it to the ground. As his hands reached out in a final attempt they made contact, painfully gripping her delicate wrist. Clara, mustering all her strength, slammed her free elbow into the large gut of her attacker who with the unexpected blow keeled over, releasing his grip on her wrist.
She broke free and ran as fast and hard as she could with the words of the bearded man trailing after her through the air:
"You can run all you want missy but you can't hide! The woods are a dark and scary place at night, especially for a lady without her cape!"
As she ran further into the woods, Clara couldn't help but notice the chill of the wind as it grazed her now bare arms. Her long, golden hair blew wildly around her face and a single strand lay plastered to the cheek now wet with tears.