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John naturally walked on the balls of his feet with his heels dipping to the ground after. His shoes were well too worn now but there’s a certain racket to a new pair that was best avoided. A bag of peanuts weighed down his pocket, untouched. He tried focusing on conversations people were having as he walked by, then an older woman jogged past him. Short, black and broad in the face; her form was clumsy and she struggled to keep steady footing as her shape shrunk– not too quickly– down the distance of the park’s trail.

“That works.” John followed, walking.

Her breaths weren’t controlled and her arms flung wildly. Her footfalls were blunt and her right knee buckled beneath her body weight every few strides. She ran like a toddler. John remembered something funny. She stooped down with her hands on her thighs, frantically wheezing in air like it was trying to escape her. A few passerby walked by her, paying no mind at all while some people who were sitting in benches shifted their eyes to her direction before looking back to their phones. John walked by her, slowing his silent creep just slightly. She leaned back up, head turned high and belt an exasperated, forceful sigh before continuing her arrhythmic jogging. She passed John, eventually. She was approaching a wooded area uphill. John’s gaze darkened. He walked.

She did not attempt to jog at an incline, preferring to wobble against gravity as Sisyphus would. She kept clumsily slamming foot to pavement while the trail leveled. Persistent as she was, she barreled through the exhaustion, with air feeling heavy in her lungs and her heart pulsing in her ears. It was quiet up there, even if her breathing wasn’t. There were shadows swaying on the ground with light peeking through the leaves and treetops. The sun cast the trail into shade and a cool, gentle blowing of wind sounded like waves on the beach; it was all so quiet up here. She just barely stood with her hands on her hips and head craned down, her breath still escaping her. She let her eyelids fall, feeling the air pass by her sweating limbs. Her heart slowed. It really was quiet up here.

“I can do it… I know I can do it…” she said between sharp, more controlled inhalations.

She felt peace for just a moment before she opened her eyes and felt a sudden, cold knock at the base of her skull.

She fell fast, limp and heavy. Knocked out immediately.

John turned her over and searched her pockets. He found pepper spray hooked to her keychain and a pocket knife. He took the knife and opened his bag of peanuts, putting them in her hand. Using his jacket sleeve, he grabbed a handful of poison oak and rubbed it on her face, swelling it. He stepped back and looked at her; she was still breathing too heavily. He grabbed a sturdy looking branch from the ground and forced it on her neck, leaning his body weight in until her face turned dark. He couldn’t notice if she was breathing anymore. He tossed the branch to the side and lowered his head to her chest. Her heart was beating faintly, slowly. Thudding just enough to know it’s still there. Blood pooled in her mouth; John turned her head over so she wouldn’t choke. He rested on his haunches and stared at her, listening to the wind. Silence then.

Wesley emerged timidly from between the trees where no trail was ever paved, entering the park’s garden. He surveyed the area as best he could. He felt confident he was alone and sat down on the bench he usually sat in, cracking open a book with a relieved sigh.

Chapter 1

Prey Seeks Predation

The neurosis of the average prey animal knows little bounds. But in nature, there exists a different breed, a rarer sort that remains blissfully unawa-


A firm hand grasped tightly on Wesley’s shoulder. He jolted, letting out a small scream and turned to see an urgent, sallow faced man.

“Where’d you-”

“Look you’re the only one nearby a-and I think someone really needs help…”

Wesley put his book down with some eagerness.

“Well, where are they?” he said while standing from his bench.

“Just up this hill. Please, hurry!” The man shouted as he moved in a light jog to a tree covered path. Wesley kept up, trying to calm his nerves.

“I-I was just walking through here and saw her, she… She... I don’t know how long she’s been laying here but I think it’s anaphylactic shock! Look!”

She was so still. She was breathing meekly. Her face was a deep purple and was swollen like a tar bubble just before it popped. A small bag of nuts spilled out of her limp hand. Wesley couldn’t keep his hands from shaking but he tried to stay composed, forcing tears back from falling from his face.

“D-di-did s-she h-have an epi-p”

“No, I checked for that. Look, she’s not going to be breathing for much longer…”

Wesley dropped to his knees right beside her. He scrambled and checked her pulse.

“She’s alive!” His voice cracked.

“Listen, my friend is a doctor but he’s way out in the parking lot. He’ll know what to do but right now,” the man hurriedly reached into his jacket and pulled out a pocket knife, “she needs to breathe.”

Wesley looked pale.

“Someone has to stay here with her…” The man crouched down to meet Wesley's gaze; he was reminded of a shark's eyes.

“Take this knife and push right– look– push right here to open a hole.” The man centered the knife over where her adam’s apple would be. “Just do that while I get my friend. Please, just do this okay?” He grabbed Wesley’s shaking, sweating wrist and forced him to grip the blade.

“Just push down, okay? I’m coming back with my doctor friend, but just promise. No matter what. Keep. Pushing. Down.” The man sprung up and dashed to the entrance of the trail before looking back.

“And remember! You’re saving her!”

The man ran off. Wesley could hardly see through his tears, too frazzled to notice the dark bruise across the whole of the woman’s neck.

“I-I-I can… I’ll…”

He sniffled and tried his absolute best to force the knife down.

“I-I can d-do it… I-I c-can…”

He didn’t expect her neck to bleed so much. He almost fainted at the sight of it, but he powered through; he was determined.

“I c-can h-help! I can… I-I can do it!”

John walked to the parking lot and drove home. He went to bed an hour later and chuckled under his breath. He had a dreamless, peaceful sleep.