I shoved the car door open and flung myself into the spiraling rain. I tumbled and rolled into a gurgling ditch, coming to a stop like an unraveling spool in the grassy cradle. I did not know if it was blood or water that washed over my head like a baptism to a new life. Tires squealed to a halt, then reversed. Aching, I rose to my trembling knees, then staggered upward and forward, away from that moon-haunted highway that stretched from darkness to darkness behind me—fleeing from those demonic headlights that sought to follow me into the woods. The nocturnal forest breathed its wet wilderness upon me, and I followed it, like Beauty following the moist breath of the Beast, uncaring of anything else.
My name was Madeline Spencer, and I was fleeing from my husband.
That beastly forest helped and hindered me. Branches whipped me as I rushed blindly through the cluttered underbrush. Roots tripped me like vicious snakes and I fell numerous times, finding myself wrangling with branches that clung to me and tore at my thin, wet dress. Yet, the forest also hid me in its rough bosom, concealing my flight even as it teased and taunted me with its roughly flirtatious play. It was a taloned lover, this forest, and I felt my heart quicken at its dizzying taunts.
I could hear my husband calling out to me— not in concern or to plead for my return, but angrily…vengefully…like a man calling for his disobedient dog. I fled that bellowing voice as if it were the summons of a devil in the darkness. He would not drag me back to that soul-obliterating hell-hole that I once called home. I would have sooner died than been clutched back from this dizzying freedom.
Faster I ran and stumbled and staggered. I did not care if I became lost in that treacherous place. Branches and thorns and rocks were nothing compared to the snide reproaches that struck me everyday in our loveless union. The howling of wolves and the mocking “Who?” of owls were not half so demeaning as the passive-aggressive compliments or the unfeeling reprimands made in the naked light of the public eye. The thought of starvation was but a mild death by degrees when compared to the hollowing of the heart that I endured day to day in this cold, manipulative, Stockholm syndrome marriage. Enough! Let death come at once, or let me find freedom elsewhere! I was my own woman now, come poison or bear or feral vagrancy, I would be unto myself my only constant star in that starless sky. No more would Man badger and bully me. Though stormy winds beat against me, I went as I willed.
Yet, my limbs ached from my many falls. My lungs heaved and lurched as if to burst, each inhalation like a thorn-bush of ice growing larger within the strained pulmonary tissue. My dress clung to my body as the rain pelted me, becoming like the wet shawl of a widow saturated by her grief. I wished to tear it from my chest and to fling it to the wind like the detritus of an amniotic shell that had long stifled me. Freedom! I desired freedom! Freedom from everything that once was! Freedom from all of the articles of that unwanted life! I wished to be as a snake shedding its old skin, quivering its coils in the lustrous light of a new life! I wanted to be as the butterfly newly fluttering from its old, claustrophobic cocoon!
I did not know how far I had sprinted, nor was I aware when I could no longer hear my husband calling for me. He had receded into the darkness, like the devil he was. That selfsame darkness pressed in around me, and yet I welcomed its black-clad congregation of shawled shadows. Let them take me far and away from my life. Let branch and bush and vine— however toothed— induct me into the gulfs that dwelled between the past and the future. Their crimson kisses were but farewells to that life that I left behind me as I set upon my new voyage, however brief and insignificant to the deaf, unfeeling cosmos above.
Suddenly the trees fell away, as did the darkness. I came to a clearing and was so surprised by the illuminated porch that I dropped to my knees. My eyes were bleary, half-blinded as they tried to adjust to newfound light. The porch was part of what looked like a log cabin, but monstrously large and broad and tall. I struggled to stand, but discovered my legs were trembling with overexertion. My chest heaved under the tight wet dress, my heart squeezed between my lurching lungs.
Dogs were barking. Many dogs. Were they hell-hounds, come to fetch me home? A large shadowy figure approached me from the porch, backlit and obscured by that lurid luminosity. He loomed tall and big and I did not know, as I faded into unconsciousness, if he was the old devil come to reclaim me, or some new devil come to deliver me to another life.