I drove up the winding logging road, feeling slightly queasy as we twisted and turned away from the closest community. I glanced through the rear-view mirror at Hope, my Bullmastiff, lying lazily in the backseat. A pothole pulls my attention back to the road, forcing out a breath I hadn't realized I was holding.
Kristen sat in the passenger seat munching on chips as she gossiped with me about people we knew. Kristen and I had met at nursing school, had spent the last four years learning what we needed to become Registered Nurses. She excelled in classes, kept in touch with friends, and had a long term boyfriend. I on the other hand, had put all my energy into school, leaving little left over for a personal life. Kristen’s bright personality had raised me out of my worst slumps. We were taking this weekend away to celebrate our success, a last hurrah before we would start looking for jobs.
I was so intensely proud of myself for completing something worthwhile, for taking a step forward in the life I wanted to build for myself. I had a late start at figuring out what direction I wanted to take my life in, and at almost thirty years of age, I couldn’t consider finishing school to be my first step towards the life I wanted, but it was a big step.
And that big step deserved to be celebrated with the person who helped get me here. Ten years ago, even five years ago, I would not have considered going up into the middle of nowhere, out of range of any help. In these last few years, I have grown up so much. I was determined to tackle the things that had been impossible to my past self.
A weekend away at a lake with Kristen now sounded like a dream. Of course, Kristen’s boyfriend Alan would be there, but he was okay, I had gotten used to him. Alan was bringing Rob. I’d have preferred not having some strange guy there, but he was Alan’s friend, so I could handle that. I was amused at Kristen's hope that we would hit it off, that would never happen. It had been years since I even looked at a guy twice.
We arrived around noon, got straight to setting up the camp. Rob and Alan were coming later since Rob couldn’t get off work early. We swept a clear spot for the giant tent and wrestled with poles until it stood sturdily enough that I didn’t think it would fall down on us at night.
We were unloading the car when I spied a faded red handle of an axe. I had never chopped wood before. It seems like such a silly thing to be excited over, but I was. I gleefully stood up a piece of wood on a stump, planted my feet wide, hefted the axe up in both hands, then swung it down hard, splintering it into two pieces. I set up another piece of wood and repeated. I liked the feel of the weight of the axe, found the repetitive chopping to be relaxing, almost hypnotic.
With reluctance, I put down the blade and finished helping with the camp. It didn’t take long; Kristen knew what she was doing. Still, I did my share of hauling and felt that I hadn’t been completely useless.
Sweaty and tired, I was craving a swim. “We’ve done the job stuff. I’m going to get my bathing suit on and head to the lake, you going to come?”
“Sure. I’ll leave a note for the guys, so they know where to find us when they get here.”
It was a short walk to the lake. Along the road, I found a solid short branch, tossed it for Hope. She barked loud and ran happily after it. She loped back proudly to drop it at my feet. We kept this going until we got to the beach. This time I reached back and tossed it as far as I could, into the lake. Hope leaped into the water with no hesitation, grabbed it, and brought it back, showering us in the process as she shook herself dry.
We laughed loudly, shrieking like children. I kicked off my shoes, wiggled my toes in the silky hot sand. Losing any and all of my normal reserve, I did a little happy hip shimmy, then ran into the water giggling. Shin deep, I gasped as the cold hit me. I pushed through up to my thighs, but my legs refused to go farther. There was only one thing for me to do. I dove under, getting the icy shock over with in one fast movement. Coming up for air, I laughed at Kristen, still trudging in inch by shivering inch.
Time passed slowly as we washed off life’s stresses and enjoyed an afternoon together. My muscles melted as I drifted along the surface, tracking the way the clouds changed shape. Closing my eyes, I looked inward, felt the pains of the past sink to the bottom as I floated above them out of reach. This was serenity, and maybe another piece to my healing.
The shadows from the trees had lengthened significantly when Kristen shouted bounded out of the lake. I lazily rolled my head over and confirmed that the guys had come. Kristen gave Alan a sopping wet hug as he spun her around. I let my gaze drift over to the man standing awkwardly beside the couple.
It was him.
It had been twelve long years since I saw him last, since he had changed my life forever. He still invoked the same primal reaction he did the last time.
My face snapped upwards again, not wanting him to see me. My mind spun furiously.
“Hope”, I whispered, needing her beside me, yet not wanting to draw their attention. “Hope”.
My loyal companion splashed over, pressed her nose against my face and whimpered. She didn’t know what was wrong.
Buzzing filled my ears, my skin tingled in warning. If he recognized me, I knew I'd be in trouble. I got away the last time, but there was no chance he was going to let me leave when I could now trace him through a common friend. The police had searched for him for years, without any success. New cases still popped up on my newsfeed. Faces of women murdered splashed on the screen, a reminder of who I was, of what happened so long ago. The police kept a list of names that I should have joined. They could find him now, take in, but only if I lived long enough to get to them.
Will he recognize me? It had been both dark and raining when he had clamped his large hand over my mouth, sealing it tight. He had been behind me, as he dragged me behind a dumpster. I had to hope he had grabbed me indiscriminately, without clearly seeing me. I had to hope, because that was my only chance to get out of this.
I struggled to breath as tendrils of panic grabbed hold of me. I held onto Hope, drawing comfort from her. I knew to count what I could see, what I could touch, what I could smell, to stave off the attack, but I didn’t have time to bring myself down the normal way. He was right there.
I’m at least thirty pounds lighter now, I reassured myself. Years of anxiety had stolen my appetite.
My hair is short, and purple. Twelve years ago I had long golden locks. I had hacked it off angrily after the attack, wore it uneven and often dirty for far too long. It had been barely more than a year since I allowed a proper stylist to fix it. The drastic change had been a symbolic ‘fuck you’ to him, as I learned how to go out into the world again, allowing myself to be seen, to intentionally draw attention to myself in a crowd.
The last twelve years had changed me so that I barely recognized that the woman in the mirror now was the same person from back then.
He won’t recognized me, he won’t recognize me. I chanted this to myself, continued to float, pretended that I wasn’t visiting my own private hell.
“Jane!” Kristen called.
I took a few calming breaths, reached deep within me to find a suit of strength. I pictured myself climbing into the suit, spreading it across my body, covering my face with it, and becoming someone new, someone that had the strength to stand up and meet her the man that had haunted her for more than a decade.
Resolved to get out of the campgrounds as soon as possible, I poke my head up. “Hi Alan.” My falsely cheery voice did not crack. I rose from the water, proud that my legs barely shook.
“Jane, this is Rob; Rob meet Jane.”
It was her.
A burning need rushed through his veins, overwhelmed his senses at the sight of her. Oh, she looked different now, a bit. But the way she walked, the shape of her eyes, that beautifully crooked nose she had courtesy of him, it was definitely her.
The police have been searching for you for years, she will be your undoing, a small voice in his mind warned him.
He ignored that voice. The police sketches on the news had looked nothing like him. It had been dark, he had taken her from behind, thrown her down face first against the concrete. She obviously didn’t get a good look at him.
The media had refused to disclose her identity, so he had been unable to track her down and finish the job. Now he had a name. Jane. He rolled it over in his mind, savouring the knowledge.
He rubbed at the scar along his forearm, hidden underneath his self-styled tattoo. It was his memento from when the bitch had sliced him with some blade she had hidden on her. He appreciated the irony in that The Carver got carved that long ago night, still, she would bleed for it. He would take extra care in the design he cut into her while her life flowed through his fingers.
She reached him, nodded her head casually with eyes void of recognition. His heart sped up, his hands almost vibrated as he looked her over. He couldn’t resist the grin that stole across his face.
The media called her the lucky one, the one that escaped The Carver. She wasn’t so lucky anymore.
He watched her eyes, as he extended his hand in greeting. He wanted her to cringe, not because she recognized him, but because he had such a profound impact on her life that fear was at the core of who she was. She briefly touched his hand before pulling back. Not quite the reaction he as hoping for, but he consoled himself that she was not comfortable in the presence of a strange man. He was curious how else he had affected her; it was intoxicating to imagine the power he wielded in her life.
He could have fun with this, with her. He rarely got to play with his partners, this was going to up the ante, change the game he was playing. The mind games would make for exquisite foreplay before the final release.
He stepped in a little closer, not too much, not enough to be seen as inappropriate, just enough to bother her. “I’ve been looking forward to meeting you, Jane.”
My throat was blocked by a lump of terror; it was hard to swallow, harder still to talk. I managed an impersonal smile to his greeting.
We all walked back to camp together. Hope rubbed against me, pawed at my foot trying to understand what was bothering me. I wished I could tell her what the danger was. I needed her more in that moment than ever before.
He looked at me, “Where is it you work, Jane?”
I could not, would not share personal details of my life with him, but neither could I lie with Kristen and Alan there. “I’m not working at the moment.”
Hope shimmied in between us, using her bulky form to shield me from this man she didn't know.
Rob ignored the dog. “No work, that is fortunate for you. But that is odd in this day and time, yes. How do this work for you, with no job?”
It worked because I had parents that had supported me, encouraged me, loved me for the many years that I had gone through the motions as a fractured shell of my former self. Parents that continued to support me as I picked up my broken pieces and put together a new me. As much as Kristen helped me get through school, my parents help me get through everything.
“People that care”, is all I offered to the monster at my side. The natural thing would be to ask him questions to deflect from me, but my mind was blank of anything polite I could force myself to say.
I focused on the depth of my breathing, kept it light and casual when the tightness in my chest threatened to cut off my air. Hope’s whimpers had become growls deep in her throat.
“How about fun. What does Jane do for fun?”
“Kick-boxing”, I admitted, wanting him to know I wouldn’t be so easy to drag off. “Firing range”, I added for good measure. Both were true.
He rubbed his hands together. “It is rare to meet women with such talents. You are different, yes? Something special about you. I would very much like to get to know you better. Perhaps we can shoot together sometime, yes?”
I nodded vaguely, resisting the urge to claw his eyes out. I barely came up to his chest, I had no chance in a physical fight. My only hope was to get far away. The camp was not much further on, yet the dozen or so meters felt an insurmountable distance, accompanied as I was by the object of my nightmares. I rested my hand on Hope’s head, taking comfort in her company. She would protect me if I were threatened.
Wandering into camp, Rob casually sauntered to the firepit, started placing the tinder and wood as if he were a normal person. He would never be a normal person, and the feel of his eyes on me when he looked up made my skin crawl.
I had to get Kristen into the tent, tell her who he was. The guys wouldn’t follow if we were changing. It was a good plan. But instead of walking to the tent or calling out to Kristen, I strolled behind him to the wood pile. I lifted the blade of the axe out of the stump, hefted it in my hand as I crept towards his back.
With the full force of my two hands, I slammed into his back.
He crashed into the firepit as his screams rent the air, joined by Kristen’s and Alan’s. Alan rushed over, stood between us as he helped his friend stand.
“It’s him”, I shouted as loud as my voice could carry. “It’s him, it’s him. He’s The Carver.”
The monster named Rob turned, hard steel in his eyes. His smile disappeared, in its place was a cruel snarl. He pushed Alan aside, jumped forward. My air was viciously cut off as he grabbed me around me throat. I could no longer feel the ground beneath my feet.
Hope leaped at him, tearing fiercely into his thigh, strong jaws crushing his leg. He fell to the ground on his side, the axe still jutting out of his back. Hope did not give up her hold. He flailed around with his arms, punching Hope with little effect other than bruising my heart. He reached for the wood he had been laying down, grabbed a chunk of it. I saw what he intended to do. I kicked him furiously, but also ineffectually.
The bastard made to bash Hope with the log. Alan ripped the log out of his hands. Relief flooded me, blurring my vision. Alan knew what The Carver had done to me, to other women that hadn’t survived. I could begin to imagine how hard it had been to set aside the mantle of friendship so quickly, to reconcile the man he knew to the evil hidden underneath. Alan truly was a man worthy of her closest friend.
“Call Hope off”, Alan shouted at me.
I looked at him confused, I thought he was on my side.
“Just call her off”, he pleaded.
“Hope!” I called out weakly. “Hope!” I managed more firmly. She let go, but stood snarling at the bleeding man, reminding him that she was in control.
Alan turned to the other campers who had been drawn by our collective shouting. "One of you, get the bloody police. Drive down the fucking mountain if you need to get a signal.”
Kristen gently pulled me to the car, started treating me for shock before it started to show, giving me a blanket to warm myself and candies to get my sugar up. Then she wrapped her arms around me and let me sob against her until my tears were spent.
It occurred to me that two would-be nurses were in the truck while a man was bleeding out. I kept quiet, not charitable enough to do the right thing.
The Carver was arrested that night. He was brought down by the strength of Jane, her Hope, and her friends. Jane had everything she needed to build the future she wanted, and now her fear had been taken away.