He’d never run that fast before, though it felt like his legs, as if re-entering the atmosphere, were falling apart, tearing muscle with every step, wrenching his heels, shattering bone.
A hundred times before he’d gone for a midnight walk through the woods, along the river just a mile outside of town.
He’d been looking at the eyelash moon when thought the rustle in the leaf bed was a raccoon or even a skunk. When he turned to look the man jumped out from the trees grabbed him, pinching the skin on the boy’s back.
His guts fell, his heart rolled downhill in his chest. His breath stopped as he wrestled with the heavy shadow that grabbed at his face and dug its alien fingers into his eye sockets.
Then the boy, unable to swallow, tight as a piano string, flung his elbow and it broke on his attacker’s skull.
He kicked free and ran, sucking shallow breaths. The thin, quick exhales trembled under his drum-roll heartbeat.
The blur of black leaves slapped his face as he weaved through the trees. Until, along the river bank, his back tensed and he tripped on the tamped earth path and smashed his shoulder on a tree.
The pain, the fear, panic. Though his shoulder throbbed, and he could hardly lift his arm, he tried to get up. But the pain in his back was too much, and his heart shook faster and faster.
He reached behind and felt that he’d been stabbed, then he lost his breath and his stomach disappeared.
He reached inside his sweatshirt pocket, but his cellphone was gone. The woods were silent except for the faint hum of the river current and the far away traffic on Main Street.
Oh God. His parents, they’d find his room empty. They’d be lost, his mother, his kid brother. Would Sara cry? What did he mean to her? What would happen?
He’d never know college, or marriage, or see his parents as grandparents.
He can’t, he can’t.
He coughed and tried to crawl, but his legs had gone numb.
Would they find him, would they find the man? Could he survive?
And when it felt like his heart couldn’t beat any faster it began to slow down.