Tori had been riding for several hundred miles, and her bike started choking. The power was running out. Tori kept going. She was in a blind race now, whatever the external circumstances were, she would keep going. She would not stop. There was a thought somewhere in the back of her mind that she was damaging her beloved bike, but it was not a thought that registered anywhere. She kept riding it until it slowed down and she had to get off. She threw the bike to the ground and started running. She knew that the distance she had made up between her and the cowboy on the bike would be lost very soon now that she was running and he was on horseback. She ran anyway.
Tori was a fit girl, she was physically active nearly all of the time and was no stranger to running. She was about to test herself. She ran hard at first, taking long strides and lightly springing off the ground from one foot to the other. In the beginning she was strong. She wasn’t sure how much time had passed, but the sun was still hot and it had gotten pretty high. It always felt like a lot more time had passed when you were running, especially in the beginning. She had always found that the first half an hour was the hardest, and if you could push through that, you got into a rhythm that you could maintain for quite a while without too much trouble. She also had a great deal of adrenaline pumping through her blood stream which was helping her push herself that bit more than she usually would.
Her powerful strides started to slacken off as her heart felt the pressure of pumping so much blood to her lungs. She had to purposely breathe deeply in through her nose and out through her mouth, making her chest expand and stomach protrude on the way in and back in on the way out. She had learned that it would slow down her heart and make the run more comfortable until she got over that feeling that she had to stop because she was too out of breath. Her body and her vital organs were not aware yet, put her mind knew she would be running for a long time. Most likely longer than she had ever ran before. She waited for the panting to stop and the heart beat to come back down a little as she concentrated on breathing. Eventually it did and although her pace had slackened off a little, she got into a steady rhythm that she could keep up for some time.
At this point, her mind could separate from what her body was doing. The movement of her legs had become as regular as or perhaps more regular than her breathing and she could think about other things. In fact, it was the only way she could keep going for any length of time. Her first thought was of the cowboy and how far behind her he might be, but she knew that allowing herself to succumb to the fear that he produced in her would make her heartbeat get too fast and the run would become unbearable again, so she pushed that thought to one side for now and searched her mind for something more pleasurable. She at once thought of Jo and pictured the pleasantness of her face and the warm feeling it gave Tori thinking about her. She saw in her mind Jo laughing, and then dancing to that hip hop music she had on that music thing, bouncing like a child. It made Tori smile. She thought of the inviting way Jo looked at you, waiting patiently for you to give her something. Tori was never sure at first exactly what she was expecting, but apparently just talking to her was enough. Tori felt like someone else when she was with Jo, in Tori’s mind anyway. She felt at ease, she felt like a young child again, she could laugh, she could be stupid. No one Tori had ever met had made her feel like that since as long as she could remember.
She tried to remember back to when she must have felt that way as a child. She couldn’t really remember any specific instance or memory of feeling like that, but she was sure she must have felt it at some time. The feeling was familiar to her although long forgotten. She could only remember that feeling disappearing. Like she must have been feeling that way, and then she could remember something specific happening that scared her and the feeling suddenly disappeared. She remembered feeling scared. These memories were mostly of her parents. She was always there in her memory, watching, but no one else seemed aware of her being there. It was like her parents were there, but in a different reality to Tori’s, like she was watching them in some kind of bubble in front of her. It was loud and frightening and definitely happening, it was real, but Tori felt in her memory that although her body was there, although she could in fact see herself as a child, the her that was her now was not in that child. She could almost see herself in that blind way you see yourself in your mind. You see yourself, but obviously you can’t really, because you can’t ever look at yourself unless in a reflection and it’s not a memory of a reflection, it is a memory of you in reality when you were there in your own skin, but you see it externally.
The memory was of her mother and father arguing. Her mother was crying and she was drunk. Her mother drank a lot during this time. It wasn’t as obvious with her father, but she was pretty sure he was always drinking too. Her father was belittling her mother. Telling her she was a mess, a pathetic excuse for a wife and a mother. Telling her that Tori was strange because she didn’t know how to look after her. How Tori was always dirty and hungry looking and always looking at him with those big pleading eyes. In the memory Tori’s mother just sobbed and put her face in her hands. This happened for a while, Tori can’t remember how long. It felt like months because she was in fact starving most of this time. They had no food and the farmhouse they stayed in was falling apart. They did have some things that they grew in the garden, some fruit and veg, but it began to run out as the sun got hotter. Tori remembered feeling that her parents could have kept the garden up, but they were only concerned about brewing the alcohol they drank. Tori, now thinking back, was not sure if they always drank so much, or if it dramatically got worse after the lights went out. In her infant mind, it all seemed to happen very quickly.
One day Tori’s father never came back from the fields. He used to go out every day looking for something to kill to eat, or something to pick for them to eat, but one day he just never came back. Her mother never slept that night, but never moved either. Tori sat with her for as long as she could stay awake. A few days later, Tori awoke and her mother was gone too. Even then, Tori was not a child who cried a lot. She discovered quite early that it didn’t really get her much. She was also very weak and hungry and even in her young age, her instinct was to find food. She began doing what her dad had done, and went out in the baking heat to the fields to find something to catch or to pick. Tori was a child and the bullets for her father’s gun had run out long ago. She went to the shed in search for a weapon and went out with a small garden fork; it looked spiky enough to stab something. Tori was never really fast enough to catch anything and there was not much to catch. She pretty much ate anything that she found still growing and vomited a lot. She was losing strength and was giving up. That was when the cowboy found her.
She had been out roaming the fields again and had found very little to eat. She kneeled down on her hunches and put her head in her hands and stared at the ground. She became aware dully in her memory of there being someone there. She doesn’t remember hearing a noise or seeing something. Like always with him, she could just feel his presence. She looked up and he was sitting on a horse staring down at her. She looked up, still with her chin her hands. The cowboy’s expression did not seem to change. He had extremely small eyes that were quite far apart. The pupils were very circular and piercing right into her. He had tanned, leathery skin, but still his face was childlike. He had very long legs. He did not smile. He was taking her in. He was thinking. He picked her up and put her on the back of his horse. Nothing was said between either of them and she did not try to run away. She is pretty sure she passed out on the back of the horse.
Her mind then switched to a different memory, to a memory that had become a nightmare and taken on a life of its own in her dreams. Reality blurred with fearful dreams. He was looking at her. She hated the way he looked at her, it made her feel disgusting, like she wanted to become invisible. Those eyes watching her, looking at her in that way, with some kind of fire burning in those tiny determined eyes. His hands on her, her kicking him, pushing him away. Running. Running. Tears, salty tears and running. That awful sick feeling that was nearly paralysing. Her legs feeling heavy, like lead.
She was still running. Years had passed and she was still running. She came back to the present and realised she was breathing heavily and struggling with the run. She was dehydrated. Her head had begun to pound and she felt sick. Still she knew she couldn’t stop. Knew she wouldn’t stop. She also knew the running was futile, but she wasn’t just running away now. The exercise to her was like pounding on the ground or a tree. She was pounding her bad thoughts and her fears; she was stamping on them with every step of the run. With every heave of her lungs, she was forcing herself to be stronger. In her mind, she was facing memories and feelings that she had put aside for years. She looked at them, acknowledged them in a way she had not done before. She was looking at herself and all the bad things she had done in her life. She was looking at a girl who forced herself to care about no one and nothing. She was looking at a girl who least of all cared about herself. Who as often as possible drank grog until she got to that dark, black place in her mind where no thought and no emotion actually registered, where she was conscious, but not thinking, not feeling. She was looking at a girl who was so drunk it was horrible to look at. At a girl who was a mess. Who pushed away everyone who cared about her because she had convinced herself she did not care about herself or about them. She was looking at a girl who revelled in hate and anger, who often fantasized about killing the cowboy, a girl who found men weak and repulsive. Who did things with when she was wasted that she later felt ashamed about. She was pounding herself with each step; she was enjoying the pain she was putting her body through and the screaming of her lungs. She was finally glad to be facing him, to know that the thing she had been dreading and avoiding for so long was eventually going to happen. She was relieved that it would soon be over and she could rest. She could no longer breath.
She didn’t want to go on. She recognised where she had run to, and began to remember some of the landmarks. The cattle grids, the way the land still lay despite there being even less trees and bushes than there were before because of the fires. It was now dusk. The sun began to go down and the temperature dropped which Tori was relieved about. It got that misty way just before the sun set and the sky started to go orange. It was going to be one of those big burning sunsets. One that Jo would of loved, would of exclaimed “wow” at. Tori had to admit that it was beautiful, and thought it was actually quite fitting and also sad that it should be quite so dramatic. She felt part of the sunset; the burning, damaging red of the sun was inside her, on fire within her. It was also losing its energy, slowing down, sinking, melting into the ground and below the earth.
She was nearly there and now her only thought was water. She knew if she stopped now, she wouldn’t last long. She was pretty sure she had been running for hours in the baking sun and that she was extremely dehydrated. She knew the sun was a killer and that it was quite likely she would die from heat exhaustion as quickly as anything else. She wouldn’t of minded lying down and accepting it, however she had decided she would keep running to the water tank and that was that. She wasn’t sure whether there would be anything left in it, but it had been raining, and fewer and fewer people were able to stand the heat nowadays. At that precise moment, she didn’t blame them one bit. She also knew however, that before she could be at peace, she had to face him. If she died running, she would never put it to rest. She had to face him. She had to drink some water and then face him. She was just so tired now, it was painful to keep going and yet she was sure she was so near. Perhaps that was why she was struggling. Her body was preparing to give up because her mind was thinking about the end of the journey when there was still a bit to go. She pushed herself on. She made her mind tell her feet and her legs to keep going. She forced herself to keep going. She made it home. There was water in the tank; she drank some in the middle of huge gasps for air. Then she collapsed.
She was between consciousness and sleep and had been having fitful nightmares that felt all too real. She was a child again and she was vulnerable, it was a feeling she had managed to fight off for years, but one that had enveloped her now. She felt the dread that took over her when he was there, felt that dark penetrating presence. She came too and realised she was not quite dreaming, he was there. She looked up and he was standing looking at her. He was so still and staring with those bloody eyes that she wanted to rip out of their sockets. She found a new energy in the anger and hatred she felt for him, felt it kindle inside her and grow and grow, she looked at him with all the disgust she felt for him and stared at him in the face with it. He didn’t seem to notice it, but waited with that same expression of nothing on his face. Did he actually ever feel anything she wondered? Other than desire for things he couldn’t have. She made herself get up.
“I’ve been looking for you” he said in that soft voice the belied his nature.
Tori said nothing but held her gaze on him, all the emotions she had in her threatening at any moment to burst out of her. She knew that she was about to lose control and that she would not be able to stop herself, or even be in control of what she did when she let it take over.
“It’s pointless running. I’ll take you on the horse and we’ll find one of our old places and we’ll build a fire. Remember we used to do that? There’s no point running anymore”.
He looked almost smug, like he’d won, like he’d just caught his prey and was about to devour it. He had the air of someone who found it all effortless, fun even to hunt and to kill. It was never about necessity with him; he enjoyed killing things weaker than himself. She let it take hold of her.
Tori lunged at the cowboy at the same time she let out a strangled cry that was deeper than her voice and that came from some unknown place within her. She tackled him to the ground with more strength than most men have, put her weight on top of him and grabbed his throat. She squeezed and squeezed with an unrelenting grip on his neck, those eyes looking at her fuelling her anger and her will. He was startled for at the very most a few seconds and then he grabbed her arms with his own strong hands and pushed his body weight up and threw her over. She still did not let go of her grip, her arms were locked, but he now had his weight
over her and with his free hands he tried to pin her kicking legs to the ground in between punching her sides and ribs trying to weaken her so he get his full body weight on top of her. They struggled in this way for a short time, but Tori could not stop him with only her legs and her hands keeping her grip on his neck. She also started to feel that desperate fear girls feel when they are pinned down. She let out another scream and used all the strength she could find to pull him by the neck over to one side; she threw him to the side a little but of course lost her grip. Almost immediately he was scrambling to his feet again and was lunging towards her. She looked around her and spotted a rock; she let out another cry and turned away from him, her head down, pretending to sob.
“Please, just leave me alone. Can’t you get it through your thick skull that I don’t want you? I just want to be left alone. Just leave me alone” she screamed.
She was not so much pretending anymore, she was begging him not to make her do what she was about to do. She heard him come towards her from behind and as she grabbed the rock, she swung around to face him and swung the rock with all her strength and smashed it against his face. She kept swinging and she got lost. Her mind was not registering anything, she was swinging, swinging, letting out all the anger she felt, screaming. Screaming. She thought she was never going to stop. There was suddenly blood everywhere. Tori was sobbing.
Tori was torn between finishing him and letting him finish her. The only alternative she could accept to her killing him was death for herself. There was a time when she thought she would have been able to kill him effortlessly and with no remorse, but something stopped her now. Now that she had come to the point she had been preparing for the last couple of years, she found she didn’t want to go through with it. If she did kill him, she knew that she would never be free of him, he would follow her everywhere until the day she died, she wanted him to kill her, to be free of it that way and then at least she could have peace. She stopped and she got down on her hunches and put her head in her hands and cried, the way she had as a toddler. She would just have to force him to kill her. Hopefully bludgeoning him with a rock would make him angry enough to kill her. She hoped. She would rather have his violence than have anything else from him. She couldn’t bear to think of giving in to him that way, to having to exist with him. She would not let that happen. She looked around and he was beaten and bloody, but certainly nowhere near dead. She looked up at him this time and wondered incredulously whether he was capable of any compassion at all. How could he have no idea of the torment he was putting her through? Why was she not able to kill him and be done with it? She knew why, because she if she did no matter what he had done to her, she would never be able to look Jo in the face again, and Jo was the only reason she wanted to stay. Jo would forgive her if she understood it all, but Tori didn’t think she would ever be able to bring herself to let Jo know how dark this world could be. She didn’t want to be the one to take Jo’s innocence away; it would be the end of everything. She had to fight until he killed her, she just didn’t know if she had the strength anymore.
He stood up and wiped the blood from his still expressionless face. His tiny piercing horrible eyes penetrated her. Nothing had changed. She had to keep fighting until she died from exhaustion, she didn’t think he would factor in that Tori was dehydrated, suffering from heat exhaustion and fatigue and was about to collapse anyway. She decided she would fight, not to kill, but until her body gave up and then she would close her eyes and eventually be at peace. She began to feel at peace already just thinking about it and her eyes all of a sudden seemed very heavy. The cowboy made a step toward her, something registering in his eyes, beginning to doubt whether he would be able to keep her after all. They looked at each other now and Tori saw that he understood she was giving up herself. Not to him, but to this world. This however was not good; the last thing she wanted was for him to save her. She told herself she must muster one last bit of strength so he would finish her off for good and she told her legs to come out from under her and stand up.
The pain in her head felt like drumming, she could hear it now. Low, rhythmic and distant. She lifted her head and was about to stand up when she saw that the cowboy was no longer looking at her, he was looking out into the bush, concern on his face. She tried to focus but her head was spinning and she felt an overwhelming dizziness and nausea take over her. She thought she heard a whoop of air and dust flying and something heavy falling to the floor but at the same time, the ground flew upwards towards her face. Her eyes closed as her cheek hit the hard red dirt and she let go of it all.