The sun was well up when she woke, and her eyes were unable to focus exactly; she lay face down on moist earth, the sticks and leaves refusing to sharpen in her vision. She had been drifting just on the edge of consciousness for a long time, the horror of what had happened hiding just below the surface, , far enough for her to dose in a peaceful place. The calls of the male cicadas penetrating her half-dreams, and as her self-awareness grew, so did the noise of their mating call. The images of last night’s attack ran in chaotic sequence, her screams merging with those of the swarming insects, and reality overtook the illusion; the truth that she was not waking from a terrifying dream, but waking into one.
She could only just lift her head, but the amount of control it required exhausted her, as the simple desire to lift her head was no longer enough, she had to focus and repeat the command.
Sticks and leaves marked her flesh. They stuck to her, trapped in a film of a tacky viscous residue that smelt sharp as vomit. Her hand too refused to obey her commands without coaching. It too was filthy with vomit, and when she spread her fingers it webbed out in opaque strings which slowly sagged. She pushed her hand through the layer of dead leaves into the cold dirt. Her hand came back cleaner. The scent of freshly disturbed earth triggered sweet childhood memories. Digging in the garden with mom. Hammering tent pegs with dad. But sickness in her belly pulled her back.
She was lying at the base of an old tree, in a depression in the ground, midst the undergrowth. The sun light clipping as the old tree’s branches swayed in the warm breeze.
Patrick? She thought aloud.
With great effort she rolled to sit up. Her world turned and flipped on a wild axis. Bracing herself, she focused her eyes on her knee; just something close enough that wouldn’t make her dizzy. She studied the red scrapes and specks of black dirt pressed into the pale skin. She pressed the fleshy parts of the cap together to form wrinkles. The skin on her thumb and fingers also wrinkled, like when she would take a long bath. All over her body the skin was saturated in the same way. The dizziness subsided eventually, at least to allow her to look around.
She was no longer at the campsite. Nothing here seemed especially familiar. How had she ended up here? Had she walked or been brought here? Where ever this was, she thought, it would be at least nine hours from the nearest help. Even if she could find the campsite, no phone would work out here. She had told her friends and family which trail she would be on, and when to expect her back, but that was later tonight. They had been attacked. She was lost, and weak. Something terrible had happened, and if she did not summon all her strength she could easily die here.
She stood, using the tree to steady herself. She began to sway, now with both hands on the tree, and her hand lulling, her mouth filled with watery saliva. She began to heave, and expelled a small amount of sour vomit; it filled her nose, and tears ran down her cheeks. She spat out as much as she could.
It took Levi time to wade through the sharp undergrowth, every sharps branch scratching her moist skin, and pulling her hair. She sensed the water more than heard it, nothing could be heard over the screaming bugs. At the stream she knelt on a rock made soft with a cover of green moss.
She washed her hands and face before purging her mouth and drinking. Breaking down she crawled into the water on her hands and knees and sat in the flow, the frigid water waking her sluggish mind and body. There were marks on her tummy and sides, round wounds. As the dirt that had been trapped in the sticky residue was washed away, the red punctures glared out angrily, contrasted by her whiteness. When she picked at one it began to bleed into the water, beautifully trailing off downstream. Truly awake now, she washed body furiously, and climbed out of the water. She had to run, get as far from here as possible. She had to find Patrick, and get to the police.
Tentatively she moved over the rough terrain, sometimes going onto her hands when it rose and threatened her balance. She followed the stream up the valley, though there was no real knowing in which direction the camp lay, only that down meant further into the valley, and the valley stretched as far as the eye could see. If she could find her way back to the campsite, she would find the trail, and hopefully Patrick. She cursed her feet for bleeding; the sharp rocks and sticks slashed the open so easily. How she would make the walk out from the campsite if she could not find her shoes?
Dizzy and stumbling still, she fought for every inch she traveled. Several times she collapsed to her knees and even prayed to God for strength. Not a religious person generally, now she just needed to believe that something could help her, if only to give her hope and perhaps a bit of strength. So utterly drained of energy. Like never before. She would just rest for a moment, she thought, and lay her head down. She did not even have the energy to swallow her spit; she just let it pour out her mouth. She did this several times, and each time she picked herself up and continued, determined, but to no reward.
The sun had travelled its path across the sky.
There was no way of knowing how far she had traveled, or how long it had taken; only that she had not found the campsite. Only now did her hope and determination fail, and there on the bank she lay herself down on her back, absolutely spent. A glinting spider wed above mesmerized her, and at its center an X marking the position of the long legged Southern Cross Spider, oblivious to her plight. She watched the now golden rays of light play across the web when the breeze caught it, so pretty. The golden light blinded her, and she closed her eyes to better feel its warmth on her face and body.
She woke again when the light had changed, the darktime was coming, but it did not matter.
Levi dreamed fitfully, of awful chocking sensations, smothering sensations; trapped in the tangled tent, suffocated and strangled, pieced and stabbed by faceless forces. Her screams stifled to ineffective moans, kicking out and striking with limp arms. She suffered the sensation of being dragged upon a forest floor, the slim trunks of trees passing by, and turning in a sickening spiral, and when she reached out to grab them they were always already out of reach.
The face of a demon appeared against the night sky. Its beady little eyes set wide in its distorted froglike face regarding her. Levi moaned and swatted at the thing and it vanished. Warmth spread from her feet to her knees, a sucking sound, a gagging sound, and up her waste, like slipping into hot bath. The ancient forest shuddered all about her. It dissolved into hot wet darkness and she slipped beneath the surface.