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Try as I might, I still couldn’t open my eyes. The weight on my chest was allowing me less and less air. I gasped as I felt something sharp on the bare skin of my neck. A searing hot pain coursed through my body. I screamed. That’s all I can remember.
When I woke up, what could have been days or weeks later, there was light blazing down through the gaps in the canopy. Various species of exotic birds were chiming out their songs. The damp muddy forest floor where I had been lying provided little comfort, so as I stood, bones clicked and my muscles tensed before letting out a cry and a sigh of relief. I stretched out on a huge tree trunk and then sat down, slumping against it. My shoulders rolled over as I pawed at the mushy ground. Where was I? No idea. How did I get here? I can’t remember. Am I anywhere near home? I looked around, scanning my surroundings, trying to spot anything that might spark a memory. Forest, for as far as I could see. I decided to get up and walk. While I did, I racked my brain trying to remember what had happened that night.
I was running. Towards the forest, because I knew of a pool where I could go to be safe. It was in the midst of autumn, but the sky was dark this late into the night. I kept my hands outstretched to fend off fourth coming trees. A large tree root protruded from the ground just in front of me, but I couldn’t see it. As I fell, I threw out my hand to brace myself. A sudden shock went up it but I pushed myself back on my feet again and ran further. I didn’t know where I was going anymore.
I paused to think through that point. What had happened to my arm? It must have been at least badly sprained. I ran my fingers over my wrist. There were no bumps. I squeezed it. No pain. I hit it. And still, nothing. Maybe it was an overreaction. Maybe it was just nothing. I couldn’t say. Confusion swirled around in my head like a thick, opaque mist.
I remember hearing only the screams. The screams of my family, as I ran. The high pitched screams of baby Lisa, trapped in her cot. And one word playing over and over in my head like an old, stuck CD. Coward. Coward. Coward .But some force was forcing me forward. To run and not stop.
It was approaching mid day, as the sun made it’s trek higher into the sky. A wind whistled through the trees and lightly lifted the front bangs of my hair. The sun and the humidity soon became uncomfortable, and the energy in me slowly started to drain out. I felt almost as if I had deflated. But then, trotting and swerving through trees, I spotted a deer. That meant that there was water near. My hopes perked up suddenly, and so did my energy. I followed the deer, trying to keep within sight and not scare it away. Sure enough, after not too much walking, I found the stream. The mud was halted and rocks rolled down and into the shallow water. I almost squealed with joy, but thought better than to attract attention to myself. Not only had I found water, but the stream would lead me home.
It’s funny, I can still remember the way it felt; my skin, torn, and blood pooling out around me. The pain.
I traced my hand down my neck arm. Remembering how the blood had almost exploded out of it, like water pipes that crack open. But my skin was clear. As perfect as a new born’s. What had happened while I slept?
The river wound on, seemingly endless. I walked until the sun had started to slide down the horizon and turn the sky a beautiful pink. That was when I saw the edge of the forest. I broke out into a run, and then, there were no more trees surrounding me. I was home.
I ran further, but just as I was about to get to my house, a hooded figure stepped in front of me. It was almost as if they materialised right there.
“Stop please.” The monotonous voice was not identifiable as male or female. The simple command suddenly halted me.
“Your family isn’t in there.” It spoke again.
“Why?” I gasped, astonished to have this stranger block my path. The person lifted the black hood to reveal a deathly pale face, with bright red lips and eyes with no iris; only a black dot that burnt through my skin. Light blond hair fell all the way down to its hips.
“What the…!?” I took a step back, but as I did the person stepped forward. I shuffled further backwards.
“What are you?” I asked, shaking in shock.
“My name,” The voice echoed out without the person’s mouth even moving. “Is Mortem.”
“Why do you look like…” I motioned to Mortem’s pale face. A cruel dark laugh sounded out.
“In your language,” Mortem started. “My name is death.”
My jaw dropped and I shivered. I took a few more steps back.
“Why are you here?” I said, stuttering on each and every word. The blood red lips curled up, in a little less menacing smile.
“You weren’t meant to die.” The words pushed me backwards and I collapsed on a tree stump.
“I died.” I breathed out. I looked up at the reaper. “I’m dead?” She paused before speaking.
“You are merely a spirit at the moment.” The reaper said.
“Huh.” I said, lifting my shoulders.
“But you can live.” The reaper said. This raised my head to meet her eyes. “As I said, you weren’t meant to die that night. That is why I’m here.” She paused and looked over at my house behind her.
Then she put out her hand and dropped a small gold pocket watch into my waiting palm.
“This will take you back,” She said. “You can only use it once, so make no mistakes. You must make sure that you, in the past, leave the house. And then, kill the wolf that killed past you.” I nodded taking in the information. Then, just as she had appeared, she was gone. But then, I blacked out.
When I woke, the heat was immense. I looked up and I had gone back to that night. The night that my house was set ablaze. I ran in, thinking through what Mortem had said. The fire was not at full size yet, and it was fairly easy to get in the house and find my bedroom. I woke me up and she shot straight up in the bed suddenly. She didn’t think to get shoes or a jumper over her light pyjamas.
“Run, run, run, get out.” I whispered in her ear. It worked. I was just running out of the house to stop the wolf, when a wail pierced the air. I stopped suddenly in my tracks. Lisa. I turned and ran back to her room. She couldn’t see me and made a weird hiccupping noise when I picked her up, before she started at her screeching again. I ran her outside, stopping and coughing halfway down the hall. I ran as fast as I could down the road and to a family friend’s house around the corner. I dropped Lisa on the doorstep and sprinted out, back to the forest. I could clearly remember the path that I had taken now. I could remember everything. Still, I could see my tracks in the mud. I kept running, and running. I hadn’t caught up to my past self yet. The trees whipped past, and scratches started to cover my arms. A howl rang out. I found my past self then. But I was on the ground, with blood mixed through the mud around the body. My neck was ripped open. I was dead. I collapsed to the ground and screamed before blacking out for the last time.