*It goes without saying that Criminal Minds – the story and all related characters – belong to the writers, cast and crew of the show. I claim no ownership or association to the TV series titled Criminal Minds. This was written by a fan solely for the enjoyment of other fans.*
The girl stumbled through the trees, feeling the wet slap of leaves against her face. The rich scent of damp earth, living wood and spring rain filled her head. Delicious smells that would have made her mouth water, if she were safe. If she were home instead of here; breaths sawing in her throat as she raced through the forest. Bare feet cut and bleeding, leaving a trail of tiny crimson flecks she knew would be followed but there was nothing she could do about that. She had no shoes. No socks.
Large eyes opened wide, near-blind in the night.
No glow bathed the bloated bellies of the storm clouds overhead, visible through the intertwined branches of the trees. No city light shining up from below to show any place she might run towards. She was alone and lost and seeing the trunks of trees in time to evade them took every ounce of focus she could manage. Slowing down would have made dodging those unforgiving trunks easier, but they would be after her now and she couldn't risk it.
Couldn't risk crying out for help.
Couldn't risk slowing down.
Couldn't breathe . . . her lungs tightened inside her chest, squeezing as if there wasn't enough room for them anymore. Her lungs burned and itched from her gasping so hard. Starved for air. Her feet tangled, knees going suddenly weak. One small hand shot out, catching herself before she fell. Her palm scrapped almost raw on the rough bark of an oak.
Her spirit drove her to get up, to keep running. But her small body had been worn down. She couldn't move. The white cotton nightgown she wore was soaked with rainwater. Her muscles trembled beneath her skin, rolling little tremors. Too cold. Too tired.
And then she heard them.
Dogs. The guttural, excited baying of hounds.
The girl pulled her knees up to her chin, tears mixing with the drizzle on her face. Her head ached with fear. Belly tight with sickness and disgust.
She huddled against the trunk of that big tree, her head full of the spiciness of the evergreens mixed with the leafy trees all around her. Rolling her slight body into a ball, she fit between the woody roots at the base of her big oak tree. The rain having washed a small indent in the mud, creating a natural cradle where the young girl could hide.
The dogs howled and yapped, their voices rising over the rush of wind through the treetops. The girl quailed, fear leaving a taste like sour candies in her mouth. She clamped her jaw firmly shut, refusing to cry. They were coming for her and she couldn't run from the dogs. They were faster and stronger and they had sharp teeth and hot, wet tongues. They would find her in this small hiding place, and the men who came with them would take her back.
"H-help," she whispered, so quietly. Her breath warm on her hands.
It was the first sound she had made since she escaped, crawling up through an old coal pipe. She was just – just – small enough to fit. She imagined it was why her captors hadn't thought to seal the entrance closed, as they'd done for all the holes where a child might slip through. There would have been no point, and the pipe was useful in that it allowed fresh air to circulate underground without needing to leave the door open.
The dogs snarled; throaty voices almost right on top of her.
She huddled deeper, pressing herself into the moss and mud as if the earth might swallow her. Hide her from the people who were coming. Erase her from the world so that she could sleep in the ground forever and ever. Safe.
Hard white beams danced crazily over the surrounding trees, the drizzle sparkling in the light. They were the flashlights of her pursuers. Big men with heavy bodies and hot hands she couldn't fight.
She was still too tired to run, and now it was too late to even try . . .