Anna kept running, her breath preceding her in short bursts of fog. Her feet kicked up tufts of snow as she ran, but there wasn't much she could do about that. She had a plan, though, and if she could gain enough on her captor, she would be safe.
She could hear him behind her: grunting, panting, swearing. Of all the captives, only she escaped. She wanted to mourn for the families of those other girls but she had to put that on hold right now. Her survival depended on it. That's why she escaped to this area: she knew these woods she'd be cutting through like the back of her hand.
Anna ran up the hard dirt path another few hundred yards, then cut hard left, heading straight into the woods. She zigzagged to the north, and as she dashed past the biggest oak these woods had, a small tinge of nostalgia threatened to push its way into her focus. She pushed back. She had to focus once again on survival.
Anna slowed, then stopped, resting against another oak tree. Though she couldn't see him, she heard her captor's voice faintly, yelling his plans once she was captured, dotted with every crass word known to man. Anna smiled for the first time in a week.
Her captor was tall, carrying an extra sixty pounds that made him an imposing character, though it did nothing to aide in his chase. In another time, Anna would have laughed at just how bad this guy was when it came to hunting prey. Then again, he didn't know he'd chosen someone who could survive outdoors, whose childhood depended on it.
Turning, Anna began walking north toward the pond she knew lie up ahead. At this time of the year, the pond should be frozen solid from bank to bank, yet Anna knew you couldn't always trust bodies of water in the winter.
Picking her way through dried reeds, Anna stepped cautiously onto the ice, testing her weight. Satisfied, she crossed slowly toward the center, keeping her eyes downcast and her ears alert. Seeing no signs of weakness, Anna hurried the rest of the way across. Even if her captor had spotted her shoeprints in the mud and followed, she doubted he'd be able to catch up to her this quickly, but why give him an easy capture now?
Reaching the opposite bank, Anna disappeared back into the woods and continued east-northeast.
An hour later the woods broke, offering extraordinary views of the ocean. Anna kept close to the edge of the woods, though she hadn't heard her captor in some time. She turned southward several hundred meters, pausing to scan the woods behind her. Not seeing any movement, she closed her eyes, took one deep breath, then sprinted toward the massive lighthouse that stood on the cliff's edge directly in front of her.
Anna ran to the windward side of the hulking building and peeked around the corner, eyes continually searching. Not seeing any signs of life, she crept to the north end of the lighthouse and dropped down, digging around the rust-colored rock planted directly at the northeast corner. She glanced around furtively as she worked when alas! the rock came free!
She stood and turned it over, nearly crying with relief when she saw the key still nestled in the bottom. She pried it away from the rock, praying it was stable enough to work after all these years in the elements.
Anna kept her eyes focused on the tree line as she crept the door of the lighthouse. Her fingers fumbled with the key as adrenaline began to wear off. The key fell to the ground. With a grunt of frustration, Anna picked it up and willed her fingers to work.
After a few more tries, the key slid into the lock and turned. Anna was safe!
She slipped inside the lighthouse, letting the door shut behind her, then leaned heavily against it. Once her eyes grew used to the dim light, Anna made her way up the spiral staircase. It creaked under her weight.
Anna knew the lighthouse would be unoccupied, as it operated automatically these days, and no vehicles were outside alerting her to company. For the first time in a decade, Anna allowed her mind to drift back to the time when, as a child, she would flee to this very place.
Anna used to love spending time with Mr. Bailey, the grandfatherly old man who'd operated the lighthouse solely, since he was a teenager. He'd unofficially adopted her after spotting a curious little girl creeping near the cliff's edge. He took her under his wing, taught her all about the nuances of running a lighthouse, how to live off the land, and shared thousands of stories, most of which she was sure were made up for her entertainment.
Mr. Bailey had hidden the extra key for her, giving her permission to come in at any time, provided she announce her presence as any proper lady would do. He'd taught her more about life and fatherly love than any of the foster families between which she'd been bounced.
Anna shook her head, bringing her mind back to the present. She stepped into the lantern room and took a moment to enjoy her favorite view.
Nature had changed the landscape a bit over the years, but Anna felt at home for the first time since she'd left, the day she'd found Mr. Bailey deceased in this very room.
Anna crossed to the door leading out to the widow's walk. The old door creaked in protest as she pushed it open. She walked around the tower, memorizing every last detail.
Back at the windward side, Anna leaned against the tower. The frigid, salty air whipped her hair around her face, stinging her nose and cheeks. Anna breathed deeply, allowing her mind to clear, letting the sea calm her frayed nerves before doing what she needed to do.
Anna didn't know how much time had passed, but when she returned to the lantern room, she walked slowly to the big, red phone. She closed her eyes again, flooded with emotions. It felt as if her childhood home were about to be demolished.
"Emergency services, what is the location and nature of your emergency?"
Anna hesitated before responding, "My name is Anna Ford. I believe my captor is in the woods near Witches Gully, about two miles inland. I will be at the lighthouse."
Anna hung up the phone. She knew law enforcement would be at least twenty minutes so she went one floor down to the living quarters. The second she opened the door, the faint smell of old tobacco smoke greeted her. She inhaled deeply, the memories akin to a hug from the past.
Anna was surprised to see that the room appeared untouched. She ran her hands lightly over the walls as she entered, touching memories.
Mr. Bailey's bed was to her left, the sheets and flannel blanket still tucked tightly. To the left of the bed following the curve of the wall stood a small writing desk, a wooden chair pushed in closely. Next to the desk stood the old steamer trunk with the broken latch.
It was in front of the trunk that Anna knelt, carefully lifting the lid and peering inside. As she gently removed each article of clothing, silent tears slid down her cheeks. What Anna was looking for she didn't know.
She neatly placed the old clothes and linens back inside the truck and closed the lid, turning her attention to the writing desk. Anna slid the chair aside and pulled out the long, middle drawer only to find paper, envelopes, and pens. She gently open the top drawer to the right, finding only important documents neatly filed.
Finally, she opened the bottom drawer, an old manila envelope sitting on top, Mr. Bailey's nickname for her written in large letters. With shaking hands, she picked it up and opened the flap, taking out the single piece of paper.
Teapot, I fear my time here is coming to an end. Please know I love you to the moon and back. You have brought me such joy in the short years we had together. You were the daughter I never had. The best friend I needed. The smile of this old man's heart. Your time with me was the best thing to have ever happened to me. Whatever you do, don't ever give up; I'll always look out for you. Always. xoxo, Edwin Bailey
Tears fell freely down Anna's cheeks again and she hugged the letter to her chest, her head dropping forward. She allowed her tears to fall, sobbing loudly before rummaging through the rest of the drawer. Mr. Bailey's most prized possessions filled only half and what she wouldn't give to be able to take every last one of them with her.
Anna slowly shut the bottom drawer and stood, attempting to slide the letter back into the envelope. When it wouldn't go in all the way, Anna realized there was something bulky inside. She overturned the envelope and out tumbled an old gold pocket watch. Her hand closed possessively around it and Anna held it to her heart. In that moment she felt imaginary arms encircling her.
When the feeling ended suddenly, Anna jerked from her reverie. She slid the letter and pocket watch back into the envelope then tucked it and the lighthouse key into her front jeans pocket. "I love you, too, Mr. Bailey," Anna whispered, hurrying from the living quarters and pulling the door shut behind her.
She hurried down the stairs as quickly as she dared and slipped outside, leaning against the south side of the lighthouse, facing the service road. She remained still, even as the rescue vehicles approached.
A man in badge and uniform stepped from the vehicle and approached slowly.
"Ms. Ford?" he asked, one hand on his service weapon, the other at his side.
"Yes," Anna responded, her voice tight.
"I'm Officer Edwin." Anna began sobbing again, despite herself. Officer Edwin held her close until she regained composure. Anna took a proffered handkerchief and wiped at her face.
"We arrested a man who we believe to be connected to your abduction, stumbling out of the woods, on our way up here," he continued. "My other officer took him down to the station already. We'll have you try to ID him if you can, but right now we're gonna get you out of here."
Anna nodded numbly, leaning against the officer as he slid an arm around her shoulder, leading her to the emergency vehicle. The officer covered Anna in an emergency blanket and helped her into the back seat. He circled around to the front and climbed in the driver's seat.
Anna pulled the blanket tightly around her, watching the lighthouse getting smaller in the distance as they bounced over the snowy, packed dirt service road. When the only place she'd ever considered home disappeared completely, Anna shoved her hand deep inside her front pocket, her fingers wrapping around the key. It felt warm to the touch.
I'll always look out for you.
Anna smiled, then closed her eyes and slept hard all the way back into civilization.
About the Creator
Coffee gets me started; my toddler keeps me haggard.
I've always had a passion for writing but fear has stopped me from sharing my work with anyone. Vocal is my push to step out of my comfort zone.
Very well written. Keep up the good work!
Easy to read and follow
Well-structured & engaging content
Original narrative & well developed characters