Nicole stopped twice more for water, every noise making her jump, every breeze across her neck making her certain he was right behind her. Her feet were caked with mud, her muscles ached where they didn’t burn, and as light started to break over the mountain, her feet started to drag with each step.
Her toes were bloody and bruised from hitting rocks, trees and roots, her legs scratched and bleeding from the whip-like twigs and thorny branches that seemed to seek her out for punishment. She was weak, and tired, and she wasn’t sure where she was, how far she’d gone, or how far she had left to go.
Stopping again, she picked her way over the rocky beach to the river, not bothering to look for cover or hide her tracks. If Patrick found her now, he could just kill her and be done with it. At least then she could rest.
Balancing precariously with her feet in an inch of mud and silt, she reached out with a cupped hand to get a drink of water. Some tiny little fish darted around her hand, and she watched them in the dim early morning light as she slurped the cool liquid. The water was still in that spot, and she stared at the gravel at the bottom and a single, smooth root of some sort that had somehow found its way into the drink like a living straw.
Except...she frowned, and then sat back on her heels, taking a closer look at her surroundings. There were plenty of trees, but none within at least twenty feet of the shore. Peering into the water again, she couldn’t see any plants growing under the surface either, and in her tired state she fixated on finding the source of that lone root.
Reaching down deeper than she’d expected, she grasped the root and tugged. It was smooth and perfectly tubular. When she pulled, it didn’t want to come up, clinging tightly to the riverbed. She stepped into the water for better leverage and used both hands, finally raising a section of it up to the surface of the water, still anchored on either end.
Examining it closely, she confirmed that it wasn’t a root at all, but rather a thick black cable that appeared to go across the river. Turning to look behind her, she wondered where it went. Patrick’s cabin should be a long ways off by now, and as far as she knew, there wasn’t anything in the opposite direction...
Looking back across the river, she wondered if she could find the other end on the far bank and follow it. She couldn’t go backwards with Patrick somewhere behind her, but it might not be a bad idea to cross the river anyways, maybe slow him up a little if he wasn’t close by when her tracks disappeared.
Dropping the cable, she watched the water flow by for a minute, noting the strong current. Out past the still tidepool she was standing in, the moving waterway was narrow, only about ten feet. But the main current would undoubtedly drag her downstream as she swam, so she needed to mark the spot where the cable was, if she wanted to find it again.
A voice in the back of her head warned that she was too weak, too tired to even try to cross, but she ignored it. Stacking up a few rocks to mark the spot, she waded further out into the tidepool, her muscles tightening in the freezing liquid until she couldn’t stand any longer. There was a large boulder in the middle of the river about four feet downstream - she’d aim for that first, and then go from there to the shore.
She took a few shallow breaths and then one deep gulp of air before pushing out into the current and swimming as hard as she could for her target. Pulling her head up to avoid hitting it, she let her legs sink as she let the current carry her and prepared to brace herself against the rock.
Her shoulder hit first, and she rolled toward the center of the boulder just as a whitecap crashed into it just beside her, bouncing her away from the rock and out into the current again.
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