041. Encounters. Zannier Alejandra

He comes in every Wednesday afternoon and sits in front of the counter for about an hour. He’s an artist. I can tell by the way his dark eyes take in everything around him, including me. I wonder, has he memorized every line of my face, every freckle of my skin as I have of his?

He leaves his sketchbook behind one day. I can’t resist, I wait for him to leave and seize it; but, inside, I don’t find a masterful portrait of myself, just a bundle of incomplete Tuesday crossword puzzles. He was not an artist after all.

040. Are You?. Rachel Rodman

“Everyone will hurt you,” she said.

“But are you worth it?” I asked bitterly, and while chewing my lower lip for nerves. “Worth hurting for?”

Her eyes skittered away. And from her own sleeve, tentatively–a question–she removed a hand that was even more disfigured than mine, bruised and welted with a range of marks: old scabs and new, and with a stump in the fourth position–no finger.

“I don’t know,” she said.

038. Breakaway. Katherine Shaw

He’s noticed she’s missing, she’s sure of it. Would he recognise her? Could she stroll out into the open night and be mistaken for a passing farm boy? No, of course not. He’s been staring at her face every night for years.

Glancing left and right, she edges towards the cover of the thicket, fear sending her down onto her belly to crawl forwards inch by inch. Her baggy clothes drag against rocks and her newly cut hair catches in her mouth. This is taking too long. A glance at the sky tells her dawn is coming fast, and she needs to be out of here, beyond reach. Out in the open she’s vulnerable. One glance outside and she’ll be back, trapped. She has prepared for this for so long, she surely cannot fail. And the consequences if she does…No, never again. Her stomach clenches. She has to succeed.

Once she reaches the border of his land, he won’t pursue any further, she’s sure of it. Just slip through the trees and then it’s 200 feet to the fence. She can climb it in seconds, and he’s getting old now. This is what she’s been training for.

There’s a sudden light in the window behind her. She freezes. Which room is it? Think! It could just be one of her brothers; rules don’t apply to them. Did their windows face this way? Definitely. Hopefully. She can’t stop to look back. She’s exposed. Quickening her pace, bathed in yellow light, she edges towards the greenery, just a few feet away.

Her fingers finally brush against the wet grass when she hears it – a dog barking. The dogs! Are they loose? Does he know? Scrambling to her feet, she turns to face the house. Her stomach drops. The light is in her room.

Breathing heavily, she stumbles through the bushes into the trees, no longer caring how noisy she is. He knows, he knows! Feet pounding, she blindly carries herself forward. It’s now or never, but through her tears she can’t see where she’s going. Shouldn’t she be out of the other side by now? Where is the fence?

Ahead, a new light appears, a lantern swinging. He’s twenty feet away. She crouches and backs slowly into a bush, twigs scraping her skin. She can barely breathe as she closes her eyes and prays he passes by. God, please. Her hammering heart drowns out any other sounds. Hours seem to pass, but she doesn’t move. She can’t hear the dogs, he must have passed. He has to have passed.

Slowly, she reaches out into the clearing, as a rough hand locks around her arm and drags her up onto her feet.

No! NO!

Terror overcomes her. She thrashes wildly but his iron grip forces her down onto her knees. She screams, but it won’t stop him. Desperately, her hand claws at the ground. She grasps a fallen branch and swings it forward. She swings again, and again. The hand loosens. She’s free.