TEXT Take It Off Series

By: Cambria Hebert

1

 
Honor
Early morning sunlight filtered through the overhead canopy of burnished autumn leaves, and crisp, chilled air brushed over my cheeks, filling my lungs with every deep inhale I took. My hot-pink Nikes pounded lightly against the gravel path on which I ran, and the sound of Macklemore filled my ears.
I loved this time of day. It was just me, the trail, and the exertion of my muscles. Running was something I knew I would always do. It was my escape. It was my way of de-stressing, of letting my mind wander wherever it wanted. I didn’t have to think about deadlines, or emails, or dealing with people. I was in the moment, working my body and releasing all the tension and stress that built up inside me during the day.
I took a second to wipe my brow and then glanced up. A light breeze ruffled the trees and leaves rained down around me, littering the covered path. I could barely see the gravel because so many had already fallen. It was absolutely gorgeous. It motivated me to run farther, to run longer, because being out here, in the purest form of nature during the fall, was close to heaven for me.
To my right, a creek flowed, the water rushing over rocks insistently like it was racing me. Plants and trees grew along the bank, jutting into the moving water. Leaves were carried along with the current, dotting the dark water with bright spots of yellow and orange. Occasionally, a fish would jump up and splash, leaving ripples in its wake.
This trail stretched for thirty miles. Thirty miles of scenic pleasure. Thirty miles of untouched wilderness that blended in naturally with the mountainous small town where I made my home. This trail was the main reason I moved here. I felt so close to nature, so at peace. Whenever I had a bad day, I could go down to the creek or walk along the path and be instantly calmed. This place had a way of reminding me how life was bigger than just me, how I shouldn’t get so caught up in the everyday that I forget to enjoy the beauty around me.
I glanced down at the pedometer strapped to my upper arm. I’d already gone over three miles. I needed to turn back. By the time I made it back to my house, I would be over six miles for the day.
Oh well. This long run earned me a big fat dessert or maybe a pizza later.
I turned and started back the way I came, toward my little house that sat right along the trail. Some spots of the path were more isolated than others. I was running along in a place that had no homes around it, but in about another mile, I would start passing a few homes and a small row of townhouses.
I rounded the bend in the path and ran over a wooden bridge that carried me atop the rushing creek and then back into the gravel. The trees and wildlife grew right up to the path here. It was dense and full. In another month or so, it would look more bare, the leaves would be mostly gone, and I would be able to see farther back into the woods. But not today. Today the plants provided ample coverage.
Unfortunately.
As I ran, something darted out from the side. I jerked, the sudden movement startling me. My stride faltered and I turned toward whatever it was, but I didn’t see it.
It plowed into me, knocking me over, my hip taking the brunt of my fall. I grunted in pain and scrambled to get up.
But someone pinned me down.
I shoved at the man, and he glanced down, his eyes meeting mine. There was something cold in his blue-eyed stare. Something empty and flat.
Panic bloomed in my chest, spiking through my body as my heart rate went wild and alarm bells started sounding in my head.
Yes, I read the stories. Yes, I saw it on the news.
Woman is kidnapped. Search for missing woman continues. Woman is found beaten and dead.
But that stuff didn’t happen to me. That stuff happened to other people. Unfortunate women… women that weren’t me.
This isn’t happening to me.
A surge of adrenaline had me bringing up my knee and catching the man in his balls. He made a high-pitched sound and fell to the side. I scrambled up and took off, racing down the path, toward the road that intersected it. If I could make it there, I could flag down a car. I could find someone to help me.
The earbuds had fallen out of my ears and hung around my neck, banging into my skin and reminding me that I had my phone. My phone! As I ran, my hand fumbled, trying to yank it out of the band around my arm. Finally, I managed to grasp it and I held it up in front of me, calling up the keypad and dialing.
9-1—
He tackled me from behind and I fell face forward, the phone tumbling out of my hands, just ahead, just out of reach. I cried out and stretched my hand toward my lifeline, desperate to finish the call.
“You’re going to pay for that, bitch,” the gruff voice said.
I’d never known such fear in all my life. I could barely think straight. Straight-laced dread and panic took over my body, making my limbs feel heavy and numb.
Don’t give in, the voice inside me screamed.
I bucked like a pony and reached forward, my hand closing over my phone. Yes! My joy was extremely short-lived when the man, who was still straddling my back, snatched it out of my hand and tossed it into the nearby creek.
“No,” I cried, watching it swept away beneath the surface.
“No one’s going to help you,” the voice above intoned.
Something inside me went deadly calm. Like the fear and panic flat lined, leaving behind nothing but the sound of my deep, even breathing.
This fucker had no idea who he was dealing with.
I grabbed a handful of gravel beside my face and threw it behind me, right at the man. He didn’t tumble off me, but he did swear and I felt him fidget about. I grabbed another handful and launched it at him as I pushed up on my hands and knees, forcing my way out from beneath him.
When I got to my feet, he grabbed me around the ankle and yanked me back. I reached into the hidden zippered pocket of my pants and pulled out a small container of mace. I carried it in case I ran into a bear or some aggressive animal.
I should have known that the real thing to be afraid of out here was another human being.
I flipped the little cap and depressed the button, the spray shooting forward.
But it missed him. He was still low to the ground.
Still clutching the mace, I took off running. I got maybe three steps when he tackled me again. Gravel cut into my cheek and stung my hands.
I started to scream.
I yelled as loud as I could.
He flipped me over and slapped a hand over my mouth. His face was dirty from the gravel and dust I flung at him. His eyes were no longer so empty… They were now filled with excitement.
He pressed against me. I felt his hardened erection crushed insistently against my middle, and I gagged.
He was sick. This was sick. This couldn’t be happening to me.
“Shut. Up,” he said and rocked against me.
I bit him.
He howled in pain and snatched away his hand. As I screamed, I reached out and grabbed at the erection that made me gag and yanked on it, twisting it, digging in my nails and hoping the pain would immobilize him enough for me to get free once more.
In the distance, a dog was barking, and I prayed that meant someone was headed this way, someone that would help me.
My attacker slapped his hand over my mouth again. The taste of blood, metallic and sharp, had me recoiling. His legs were shaking and I knew he was in pain.
But it hadn’t been enough.
I saw it in his face.
I felt it in my bones.
I wasn’t getting away.
I tried to buck him off one last time. I reached out for two more handfuls of gravel and dirt.
He drew back his arm and punched me. Right in the face.
And then there was nothing.

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