We pushed through the bramble hedge, the thorns that snagged against the cloth and grabbed hold of the skin and the blood that began to leach out. The stinging pain as though I was being flayed alive and the taste of poison against my tongue. The sound of the reptilian beast as it careered along the path towards us but not yet upon us. And the knowledge that we would die out here tonight. That we would perish at the heart of this cruel place. On the grounds of Deadwood Hospital. And I didn’t want to die. Not here. Not yet. There was so much of the world I hadn’t seen yet. So much of life I hadn’t tasted yet. Like Lucozade or Iron Bru.
And death was with us now, I realised.
The dark beast was on our scent.
The sound of its haunted cry. The hunger that was heard against its breath.
It wanted us. The two of us. Death wanted to feed upon the two of us tonight,
“Quick!” I screamed above the maelstrom scream of sound. The whistling wind against our ears. The cackling laughter of the thorns that ripped against our clothes and skin. The cry of death behind us and seeking us out. “Hurry Ariana! Keep up,” I cried as the two of us pushed through the bramble thicket and the thorns that pulled against our clothes and flayed against the skin. And a part of me knew that it was hopeless of course. That now that death had picked up the scent that it could never be outrun. That the beast would hunt us down until it could devour us whole and gnaw upon the bones. Because that’s what life was, I realised. An endless race from death.
We fell through the brambles together in a twisted heap and the mud that was sticky against our hands and our elbows. The smell of dirt and death upon the air. The maelstrom wind that blew in against our faces. A great expanse of darkness ahead of us where the lawn should be. And in the distance the great hall that was illuminated against the darkness.
The windows that were illuminated by flickering flames. The house in silhouette against the sky as though it had punctured the fabric of space and time somehow. That its huge mass had collapsed inwards and all light and gravity that was pulled towards the centre of its dark heart. The pull of the old house too much for me too bear so that for a moment I squeezed my eyes shut. A terrible screaming chorus of tortured cries that exploded from the centre of Deadwood Manor and out towards me. An explosion of sound and pain. And so, I brought my hands against my ears to hold out the sound. But the tortured screaming cries of anguish that seeped in between my fingers.
The knowledge that someone was beside. And when I turned my head and opened my eyes, I was sure that my gaze would fall upon the devil himself. That his lips would be spread thin and the rows of tiny teeth that would be revealed. The blistering red skin and the smell of sulphur upon the air. But it wasn’t the devil that had sought me out. It was Ariana’s face that was revealed. The light of the moon that illuminated the whole of her face so that it appeared as though she had swallowed the moonlight somehow.
“Quick!” She said. She cried. Grabbing hold of my hand and pulling me up from the ground. The sticky clods of mud that grabbed against my ankles and my knees and elbows and the sense that the ground was swallowing me whole. Ariana tugging at my arm and my elbow and the pain that shot through my arm and up to my shoulder and jolted me awake so that I blinked dumbly in her direction.
“What?” I said, was all I could think to say, “What?”
Ariana peering beyond my shoulder towards the path we had left behind. The fear that was stretched against her brow and her eyes that were wide like conkers as her gaze fixed once more upon the beast that pursued us.
“Hurry!” She said. She cried. The pain against my elbow and my shoulder as she pulled me from the earth and my feet slipping and skidding against the mud as the two of us began to race across the sweeping lawn. “It’s coming!” She cried, her head turned across her shoulder and her gaze that remained fixed upon the trail we had left behind. “It’s coming Mandy!” She cried. And she was right. It was coming. And soon death would fall upon us and consume us whole.
A terrible fatigue that washed over me. The pain against my elbow as Ariana dragged me as best, she could, and the two of us that raced across the endless lawn.
“I can’t.” I said. I cried. The wind sucking the air from my throat so that it felt that I was choking. That I had fallen beneath cool waters and was drowning beneath the waves. My head shaking from left to right as I lifted my gaze briefly once more towards the house and the gravity that pulled against me. “I can’t.” I said.
But Ariana wasn’t listening.
She still had some living to do it seemed.
Her frantic breathing.
The sound of our racing feet beneath us.
The sticky earth and the whistling wind about our ears.
“It’s this way?” She cried, pulling me away from the house and towards the sweeping gravelled driveway I had noticed with Bieber two days before. “I can see the gates!” She cried. But the pull of Deadwood Manor too much for me to bear and the tortured screams that leached against my ears and bled against my brain.
“No, no.” I cried. “I can’t.”
But Ariana wasn’t listening. The crunch of gravel and shiver of pebbles beneath our feet as she pulled me away from the direction of the house as we raced along the driveway. The iron gate that was revealed before us in the distance. The dark ocean of Deadwood that was revealed beyond.
“Quick!” Ariana called, pulling at my ruined body and dragging me towards the iron gate. “Quick!” She called.
And that was when the beast that pursued us broke through the brambles and the thicket behind. A terrible screaming howl and a crack of thunder as though the air had been ripped in two.
The two of us that turned our heads briefly and peered towards the darkness we had left behind. And maybe we shouldn’t have looked I thought, because the beast was now racing across the lawn towards us and fast. The two of us tripped. We fell. Our faces that remained twisted and turned towards the beast. Death closing in upon us. All terrible hunger and desire to consume us whole and feast upon the flesh. The beast was huge. A rippling mass of muscle. Sabre-claws that ripped up clods of turf as it bound across the lawn towards us.
And I was ready for death I realised. I was ready to be consumed by it. To be swallowed down and chewed upon.
But Ariana pulling at my hand, pulling me from the gravel.
Her face illuminated by the silver rays of moonlight.
Her eyes that were wide as her head turned first to the left and then to the right as she sought an escape from this madness.
And that’s when her gaze fell upon Deadwood Manor and the beacon lights that illuminated the old ruin from the inside out. A great furnace that appeared to have been lit at the centre of the house. Ariana’s grip tightening against my wrist. Her fingers pinching against me, her nails clawing at my skin.
“Get up!” She cried. The wind screaming its insults about our faces and our ears, but Ariana wasn’t listening it seemed. “Get up Mandy!” She cried as she pulled against my hand and wrenched me from the hungry earth. And before I knew what I might be doing I found that I was running towards the direction of Deadwood Manor.
Yes. Come home. Come to us.
The two of us racing and running and scrambling across the lawn towards Deadwood Manor. The beast upon our heels and chasing us down. The wretched howl that screamed out behind us so that the two of us turned and the beast that was close to us now, so close and would soon be upon us. Its eyes that were huge and round and red. Its mouth that was open and wide. Rows upon rows of barbed teeth that were revealed and falling in towards the darkness of its throat. And I had been here before I realised. In Deadwood forest on the night of the sleepover. And the beast that had chased us then towards death that had waited so patiently for us at the lodge.
So that before I knew what was really happening, a great wooden door was revealed before the two of us. The tortured screams of the beast behind us and almost upon us. Ariana wrenching the set of keys from my grip as I stood there dumbly and watched as she pushed a metal key towards a great iron lock at the centre of the oak doors. And I wasn’t remotely surprised when the key turned, and a sharp metallic click was heard, and the door began to swing open before us. The light inside that illuminated the two of us so that it felt as though we had been consumed by flames.
A sharp pain against my wrist as Ariana pulled me forwards and through the door.
“Hurry!” she cried, her gaze that was wide as she peered a final time towards the darkness of the lawn behind us. The beast that careered towards us. Ariana’s gaze that fixed upon the creature a final time as she slammed the great wooden door behind us.
The screaming wind that was silenced in an instant.
And I fell towards the floor exhausted.