She flew down the road, not daring to look behind her. Her father told her when she was young that if she looked over her shoulder while in a running race, she’d lose speed. She believed him then, no reason to doubt her loving dad. But as she grew up and her role models changed somewhat, Dad became totes uncool, so she doubted everything he’d ever said. Now, with her legs burning and her feet pounding, she trusted him again. Well, she wasn’t willing to test his theory.
The road was empty. Where the hell was she? No houses beyond the footpath, except for the one she’d left, minutes ago. She’d had to jump about a metre to grasp onto the window frame. For a second she praised herself for being so agile. No time for that. Pulling herself up by her arms, legs had desperately kicked to find something for her feet to push off from. She was panting loudly. Finally, she made it through the window, glass had slashed through her jeans, and left a bloody gash in her thigh. She’d fallen with a thump to the dusty brown ground. The blood was sticky, warm and much to her concern, it kept flowing. She couldn’t worry about that now. She had to find help. She’d looked left and right, and made her escape.
But where was she? Nothing was recognisable to her. Barren land lay between her and the horizon. Momentarily she thought of turning back, heading in the other direction. Maybe…but no, it would mean going past the horror-house. Keep running, she told herself. There was no way for her to know when he’d notice she was gone. There was no telling when he’d come for her. Terror kept her legs moving. Fear pushed her forwards, at a pace she never realised was possible. Every part of her hurt.
It seemed like she’d been running for an eternity. All around her was brown, barren, gnarly. Then, in the distance, she saw a roof. Or was it? She’d heard about people being lost in the desert and seeing an oasis. Maybe this was the same thing. Her heart pounding, drums beating in her ears, she forced her legs to run even harder. Closer, the roof had a house underneath it. Closer still, a verandah, a red door, a veggie patch, a fence. It was real!
No time to bother with the tricky-looking lock on the fence, she jumped it and ran to the red door, knocking with both hands, screaming cries for help as she doubled over, out of breath and scared. Footsteps approached, then, ‘Who is it?’
‘Help!’ she screamed. ‘I need your help. A phone, call the police!’
The red door opened to reveal half an eye peering to look out. ‘What?’
‘Call the police,’ she repeated. She collapsed to the wooden floor of the verandah. The only house in cooee and the owner was a half-wit, probably even friends with the horror-house man. ‘I need help.’
The door opened wider to reveal a heavy-set woman with short-clipped hair and no front teeth. ‘D’ya wanna come inside? Here, lemme help ya. Oh, ya bleeding.’
The woman helped to drag her inside. ‘Rest here. Lemme get cloths an some Dettol for that,’ she said. She heard a door bolt kerthunk into place, then the footsteps moved away. Her sight was blurry now. Her eyelids closed to peace. She was drifting off to safety—
A slap to her cheek woke her from the safety of sleep. ‘No, no, no, donchya drift off. Stay wi’me, stay wi’me. Tell me ya name. Mine’s Bern.’
‘Police,’ she replied.
‘Yah, donchya worry. On the way,’ Bern said, while dabbing away at her leg with a cloth, turning the water in the bowl a shade of reddish pink. ‘Ambos, too.’ She watched Bern place a bandage around the wound and felt bad for her earlier thoughts about the woman’s intelligence. Bern moved behind her, placed her legs around the outside of her own, and pulled her back, cradling her into her girth. ‘Ya safe now.’
Resting on Bern, she sobbed. Bern was chatting to her, but the words ran together, nonsensical. She tried not to close her eyes. Bern was telling her something.
‘…knew there was somefin NQR down that way. I’ve bin askin for some…’
‘…never looked right, ya know. Never trusted ‘im. Ya get to knows out this far, just by lookin’, ya just knows. But ya safe now. Donchya worry.’
In the distance, she heard the sirens screaming their way to her.