Mary was happy to die if the opportunity arose.
The last day of her vacation blew by—the last hours, minutes, seconds. She had a hundred and fifty-two grueling shifts at the hospital before her next break. Tomorrow, she would put on her white coat, smile, and say, “How can I help you?” But today, the thought of becoming permanently lazy sounded delicious.
She decided to go for a walk in the dark. Maybe a truck would run her over. A telephone pole would fall on her head, or a Snallygaster would eat her.
She stepped outside. The crescent moon threw dim light, and leafless trees swayed in the wind. Her sneakers thumped on the pavement, and smells of mud and manure lingered in the air.
Mary sighed. She felt like she was living a stranger’s life: no dates for two years. No New Year’s kiss. Not even Christmas with the in-laws. When she was sixteen, she had so many plans: visit the Amazon, write a novel, swim with the dolphins. Now she was thirty-two, and she’d settle for a B+ guy with a beer belly.
She looked around for the truck.
Her feet padded across wet grass as she detoured into the woods. An owl hooted, and water dripped off bare branches. Brambles snagged her jeans like tiny hands.
If only she had something—style, grace, panache—to distinguish her from the hordes of other woman. In a world with Lady Gaga and Lindsey Lohan, what’s an average girl to do? Even better: an average girl with brown hair, buck teeth, and skinny legs . . . .
A twig snapped.
Mary squinted into the gloom. It was probably a rabbit—one with a large family, numerous friends, and a healthy lifestyle.
Shadows bulged and rippled. There was a hint of movement: a colossus much bigger than a rabbit. She strained her ears but only heard her heartbeat, thudding away.
Calm down. She took a deep breath and squashed the urge to run. So what if Bambi showed up on his way to eat the neighbors’ porch plants? She wasn’t about to break like a fool.
“Shoo!” Mary said. “I’m here!”
She stamped once, hoping that would do it. But no terrified deer bolted through the underbrush. No rabbit scampered off. No bird took wing.
Water dripped steadily.
Ha! She must have imagined the noise. Clouds hid the moon; of course, the merest scritch or scratch made her shiver. A cold breeze gusted through her hair, and she caught whiffs of leaf mold and rot, pine sap and snow. Mary blinked as the forest blurred and shifted. Suddenly, the darkness seemed to pulse. It was alive. She sensed a presence, waiting, watching . . . .
Don’t be silly! Pretty soon, she’d summon all the ghosts and werewolves of every bad teenage movie. What was wrong with her?
The back of her neck tingled.
She spun around, tripped, and nose-dived to the ground.
Only she landed in a pair of warm masculine arms.
“Eeek!” Mary said.
The arms released her, and she looked up at the stranger. She couldn’t see much, but his biceps were huge. He smelled of musk and sandalwood.
What some guy was doing out in the woods with cologne—she didn’t want to know.
“What are you doing here?” he said.
“Me? I’m out for a walk.” Mary flushed, then inwardly berated herself. She had every right to traipse around the wilderness at 1 A.M.
The man’s voice was rich and gravelly. “Goodness, what happened?”
“I have to go back to work tomorrow.”
“Don’t you have a job?” she snapped. “Haven’t you experienced the soul-crushing horror of real life? Sixteen-hour days, snarky coworkers, and endless paperwork?”
“I certainly have.”
“Then leave me alone!”
As she marched off, he grabbed her wrist. His grip snapped shut like a handcuff. She struggled for a few seconds.
He pulled her close.
Mary didn’t bother to scream. No one would hear her. Besides, isn’t this what she wanted? To trade her humdrum life for a little pizzazz? Even now, only part of her regretted her decision. She finally found a real monster.
She blinked up at the stars. They were beautiful. And moonlight poured down on her like a waterfall.
“Listen,” the man said, “the woods aren’t safe for you tonight.”
His fingers relaxed, gently like a caress. “Go home, my dear.”
Bio: Madeline Leong is a writer and doctor in Baltimore, MD. Visit her blog at: http://madelineleong.blogspot.com
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