Read The Sacrificial Daughter Online

Authors: Peter Meredith

Tags: #Children's Books, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Literature & Fiction, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Thrillers & Suspense, #Suspense, #Children's eBooks, #Science Fiction; Fantasy & Scary Stories, #Dystopian

The Sacrificial Daughter

BOOK: The Sacrificial Daughter
2.66Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads
The Sacrificial Daughter
By Peter Meredith

 

 

Copyright 2012

Kindle Edition

ISBN 978-0-9837072-8-8

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Fictional works by Peter Meredith:

A Perfect America

The Sacrificial Daughter

The Apocalypse Crusade War of the Undead Day One

The Horror of the Shade Trilogy of the Void 1

An Illusion of Hell Trilogy of the Void 2

Hell Blade Trilogy of the Void 3

The Punished

Sprite

The Feylands: A Hidden Lands Novel

The Sun King: A Hidden Lands Novel

The Sun Queen: A Hidden Lands Novel

The Apocalypse: The Undead World Novel 1

The Apocalypse Survivors: The Undead World Novel 2

The Apocalypse Outcasts: The Undead World Novel 3

The Apocalypse Fugitives: The Undead World Novel 4

The Apocalypse Renegades: The Undead World Novel 5

Pen(Novella)

A Sliver of Perfection (Novella)

The Haunting At Red Feathers(Short Story)

The Haunting On Colonel's Row(Short Story)

The Drawer(Short Story)

The Eyes in the Storm(Short Story)

 

 

 

"...it would gather all the power to the supreme party and the party leaders, rising like stately pinnacles above their vast bureaucracies of Civil servants, who are no longer servants and no longer civil."

Winston Churchill

 

 

Chapter 1

 

There was something behind her.

In the forest.

A sound came out of the black shadows of the pines. A small sound, a human sound. It was the sound of a branch running along nylon. It was an accidental sound and it stopped quickly. Whoever had made it hadn't meant to. They wanted to be quiet instead. They wanted to be sly and slick.

It brought her up short. Jesse spun around, peering into the dark, holding her breath, trying to listen with every part of her. Even her skin seemed sensitive to the least vibration of the still air. Nothing stirred.

Early winter in a night forest can be a silent place. Yet this was too much so. This length of the woods seemed eerily hushed as if nature itself was afraid to make noise; afraid to call attention to itself; afraid of what would happen.

She had been walking along, quiet in her own right, the pine needles barely crunching beneath her white Nikes when...zzzwip. That sound stopped her feet, cold.

Had her mother been right? The warning about going out alone had been shrugged off easily enough in the light of the Clarke's living room. After all, as a senior in high school, Jesse was practically an adult and hadn't been prone to childish fears for some time. Yet now peering into the underbrush, the warning certainly seemed to have some validity. There was a shadow that didn't fit with the tall slim pines surrounding it. Its outline, though black against black, stood out. It was different. It didn't belong.

Involuntarily, Jesse took a step back. It was one thing to hear a quick noise, which in truth could have been anything—a plastic bag caught in a tree or two branches swaying against each other—it was quite another to see that shadow. It couldn't be explained away as anything but what it was, the outline of a man.

A freaking huge man.

He lurked in the scrub just off the trail perhaps thirty yards away.

With her heart in her throat, Jesse turned, wanting to put some distance between her and this stranger, only her feet felt weighted down and they were slow to respond. She almost tripped. It was a very near thing. Her sneakers clicked together and she lurched into the rough edged bark of a pine tree. It was tacky with new resin, something that she absolutely hated but now barely noticed. That minor thing, the little trip, suddenly made her feel weak and frail. She felt girlish, which was rare for her. It ramped up her fear, revving it up until she felt possessed by a strange rabbit-like panic. It made her want to up and run, wild-eyed and dead-brained toward the distant lights of the town.

But that wouldn't do.

Partially giving in to the rabbity feeling, Jesse took off in a very fast walk. She was both afraid to run and afraid not to. The civilized part of her was barely holding on and she feared that if she began to run, she would end up shrieking her head off and dashing off into the forest. A forest which, as far as she knew, went on for miles and miles.

At the same time, not to run could mean...what? She didn't know that either except that it would entail something very bad.

A part of Jesse was astonished at her behavior. Thirty seconds earlier she had been tromping along, feeling somewhat eager to see the town at night for the first time but now her breath seemed to be stuck in her throat. It was nearly perfectly lodged there and she began to think that if she had to scream, she wouldn't be able to.

Logically, there was no reason for this.

It was prudent to be wary of strangers in the forest at night, but prudence had never entered the picture. She was straight-up freaking out. From the second she had heard that noise she had begun a freak-out that was incomparable to anything she had ever experienced in her seventeen years.

Jesse fast-walked, with her head cranked around, watching with a growing pain in her chest, as the shadow, muted and monstrous, swept along keeping pace. The unthinking rabbity part of her mind grew and began to eclipse all reason. Her feet felt light and full of energy; they wanted to run, and unknowingly she picked up speed. She raced along, keeping to the trail only with the use of her periphery vision and a whole lot of luck.

However, the trail was rugged and her luck only held for so long.

Her right foot snagged on an exposed root and she went down aware of a distant pain in both her knees and her palms where rocks had bitten into them. She was full out, splayed on the frozen dirt of the path, exposed and vulnerable. Her fright became a bomb, exploding out from her chest, blotting out rational thought and suddenly, the rabbit in her took command of her mind completely.

She had a vague realization that, although she didn't want to, she was going to run. This was an odd and frightening sensation. No longer was she in control of her body. It was as if she was only along for the ride. She pictured herself running blindly off the path, getting lost in the woods, hearing the Shadow-man's heavy breath as he drew closer and closer.

This image was too much for the rabbit, and that crazed part of her scrambled and clawed Jesse back to her feet and, as she had imagined, her panicked body fled. Unthinking it tore directly away from the shadow, sending her feet racing down a small slope. At first she stayed to the path, but quickly it curved to the right and Jesse left it behind, heading straight down the hill. She didn’t care where she was going just as long as it was away from danger. The concept of "lost" was too great for her at that point. The only concept she understood was "death".

By a small miracle, she ran over two hundred yards without breaking a leg or running a tree branch through her eye. And, by a larger miracle, she stumbled again upon the path, which had meandered back to the left. Seeing the path going off in two directions forced her mind to reassert itself. A choice had to be made. Only she was clueless as to which way would lead to town and which way would send her back towards...it.

Feeling like a rudderless boat at the mercy of tide and wind, the girl swung her head back and forth at the two options, her blonde hair flying. With her panic and the dark, Jesse had no idea which way was right. She was completely turned around, so that both directions looked the same to her. Painfully, it felt as though her life hinged upon the flip of a coin. Left or right?

She had to choose before the Shadow-man came and took even that from her. While she debated, a sudden rushing noise swept down on her and she cringed with her hands coming up protectively to her face.

It was only a charging gust of new wind. It dashed merrily about the forest and as it did the trees swayed in gentle appreciation. As if to music, they gently danced together and between their boughs Jesse saw the golden warmth of the town's lights. An explosion of stupid relief burst within her; she knew where she was. She was closer to safety than she had realized. From where she stood she was practically at the two ponds and the town was only a few hundred yards beyond them.

She could make it. As long as the Shadow-man wasn't too close, she could be at the ponds in a minute. With a last look back before she took off, Jesse stumbled to a halt.

"What the hell?" This came tumbling from her numb lips as she slowly spun in place staring all about. Her eyes searched the dark forest. The evil shadow was nowhere to be seen. The woods were empty. Her eyes darted to each bush, each little outcropping of rocks, carefully examining everything. She peered all the way up the hill that she had just run down—it was empty.

Just then the stupid relief that she had felt at seeing the lights doubled, and a giddy smile cracked her lips.

Had she just imagined the shadow? Had there actually been anything lurking in the woods at all, or had it been just some guy taking a shortcut on his way home; one of her new neighbors perhaps? Had she just made a great big fool of herself? That was certainly a possibility but, Jesse reasoned, if were so then it had been her mother's fault.

Just before Jesse had left the light and warmth of her new house, Cynthia Clarke had dropped this little bomb on her daughter: "Don't go on the trail, dear. I heard a rumor that a boy was murdered down by the ponds. It's not safe at night."

That was practically a challenge to Jesse's imagination and was also a guarantee that she would take the trail. Rebellion was Jesse's hallmark. Something her church-going mom knew perfectly well. It would have been smarter for her to have warned Jesse about the dangers of the well-lit streets if she had wanted her to go in that direction.

With a shrug and a snort of derisive laughter at her own foolishness, Jesse once again began walking down the trail toward town. Though she was almost certain that the shadow had just been her imagination gone wild, she kept her eyes out, scanning the forest all the same. Shadow or no shadow the woods were very spooky.

The opposite of how they looked earlier that morning when she had made her first trip into town. The sun had been shining, and the birds chirping. It was just gorgeous. Now it was cold and bleak. The snow clashed with the shadows; harsh white against the black.

Even though her fright was fading, Jesse noticed her hands were shaking. She stuffed them deep in the pockets of her black coat, only to pull them out again quickly. Her right hand had come up against the frozen weight of the chain she carried. She gave the night another little laugh, again feeling foolish. What was the use of carrying a weapon and then not pulling it out when danger arose? It was stupid.

A weapon was a necessity for a girl like Jesse. Despite the fact that she had been living in sleepy little burgs for most of her life, she always carried a weapon of some sort. Actually, it was
especially
since she had been living in sleepy little burgs that she carried one. Had she been raised in a big town or even a city, she could have blended in, disappeared. But there would be no disappearing in Ashton, population six thousand and twenty three. For Jesse, Ashton would be just like Copper Ridge, which had been just like Crisfield, which had been just like Denton.

In each of those towns Jesse Clarke had been hated with a venom usually reserved for child-molesters.

A sigh escaped her as she ran her hands along the outline of the thick links. The chain, which had been pulled in self-defense only twice before, was like a security blanket to her. She considered tugging it out right there, but it had felt like ice and her hands were already almost numb from the cold. Besides, she thought, what was the point? What good would the chain do against a Shadow-man?

Shivering, Jesse suddenly realized that the Shadow-man could, even now, be darting through the trees. She could imagine him looping around on the other side of the hill, looking to cut her off where the trail split the ponds, and she could imagine herself taking the chain out only to swing it ineffectually through the black nothingness of the creature. And she could imagine the cold of the thing as it swept over her.

The very notion that the thing could be moving to cut her off raised an army of goose bumps on her flesh.

Ahead of her lay two long fingerlike ponds. They were separated by a low berm over which the trail ran. If the man could get between her and the ponds she would be in huge trouble; the path back to her house was a half-mile or more. A long way to run, and worse it was too far for her screams to be heard by anyone.

"Damn!" The word was a hissed whisper and like a starting gun it spurred her into a sprint. Although she was slim and athletic, the dash was terribly difficult for the already tired girl. The trail went up small steep hills and down into gullies filled with frosted-over mud. A low hung branch slashed a thin cut across her cheek and then a jutting rock sent her sprawling and, finally, a slip on a patch of snow turned her ankle.

Nevertheless, she made it to the berm unmolested. It stretched long and thin, the length of a football field or more. With the last of her strength, she turned and walked backwards on it, sucking wind, gasping. The Shadow-man was nowhere to be seen...at first. When she was half-way across, she saw him moving along the edge of the pond to her left. This was not her imagination run wild. There was definitely a man there scrambling along the lee side of the hill toward the berm and it was clear that had she not sprinted, he would have surely cut her off.

Once again the rabbit-like panic took her in its mindless clutches. After sprinting for nearly five hundred yards in the last few minutes there was no more racing, or dashing left to Jesse. All that she was capable of was a lurching, stumbling half jog and she only managed to keep this up until she had crossed the berm. After that, her stride became a drunk's stagger, as she moved from the support of one tree to the next, using her relatively fresh arms to push her onwards.

Her entire focus was on reaching the lights of the town. They were her salvation. Those low-hung golden stars were everything to her and nothing else mattered, not even the shadow that loomed up from the other side of the trail. She barely saw it in time.

It was a man coming at her. His eyes were sinister black and filled with explosive rage. Jesse screeched and dodged around the trunk of a large fat pine, putting it between them, while her hand dug at the cold lump of chain in her pocket.

"Hey, it's ok," the man said, and just like that he transformed from an evil, hate-filled person to something else entirely. He exuded nice like a friendly neighbor or a favorite uncle. "It's ok, I won't hurt you." His hands were up and empty.

Jesse felt tears of relief coming before she knew it. "Th-th-th...huh-huh." Her oxygen-starved lungs weren't close to being able to form words just yet. It was all she could do to just breathe. The man came closer and despite the fact that he was obviously someone to be trusted, Jesse stepped behind another tree.

BOOK: The Sacrificial Daughter
2.66Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Demon's Kiss by Laura Hawks
Cattail Ridge by T.L. Haddix
Into the Thinking Kingdoms by Alan Dean Foster
Dragon's Egg by Robert L. Forward
Signs and Wonders by Alix Ohlin
Safe Passage by Ellyn Bache
Mystic by Jason Denzel