Hannah took another gasp of the freezing mountain air as she ran through the dark moonlit forest.
“Charlie! Charlie!” she cried out, but he was surely gone by now. The only thing she could hear was the pounding of adrenaline-filled blood rushing through her veins, so loud in her ears that she could barely hear her own panicked thoughts of how she might survive in this moment.
Where the hell was Charlie?? How could her loyal companion just run off into the night without hesitation? He never strayed from the campsite, but when she finally had her ideal scene put together, he was nowhere to be found.
It was early spring, but the frigid chill of winter was still lingering in Yosemite National Park. She had come here with the intention to take the perfect picture for her Instagram feed to announce and thank all of her followers for their love and support in contributing to her goal of five-hundred thousand followers. It was scenes like this that would be liked and commented on by thousands of the app’s users who helped her officially rise to her status as a “super influencer.”
It was everything she hoped it would be. With her Aztec blanket laid out just right, topped with decorative pillows, a small wooden table that held a mug of steaming hot chocolate, and a plate of strategically placed marshmallows, graham crackers, and Ghiardelli chocolate squares, she had created a delectable scene. The twinkle lights were draped from a white beadboard ceiling—a ceiling that had been added to insulate the space but really served as a way to add charm to an otherwise drab VW Bus ceiling. The rear door to the van was positioned wide open, welcoming the world inside her tiny, yet glamorous, vanlife on the road.
Before she hit the timer on her camera to capture the picture-perfect moment, she needed to add everyone’s favorite prop in her photographs: her best friend, Charlie. Charlie was a six-and-a-half-pound Maltese that deserved the credit for most of her followers because who didn’t love to see a cute dog camping at a delicately crafted campsite? A campsite that no doubt had been upgraded to a ‘glampsite’ once she added all the bells and whistles to create the most dynamic camping scene for her Instagram post that her followers craved to see.
But as she looked around, Charlie was nowhere to be seen. She assumed he had run off to sniff the bushes and trees around the campsite, his typical routine when they arrived somewhere new, taking a survey of the area and all the new smells of other animals that had crossed the same path. Yet when she called his name, he didn’t come trotting back. She listened intently for the tags of his collar to clap together while he happily scampered back to her, but the clicking of his tags never came. The forest was silent. Her stomach began to knot as goose bumps ran up her back. Something was wrong.
She reached into the side shelf that was at the end of the kitchenette inside of the van and grabbed her spotlight. Holding it out in front of her, she scanned the surrounding woods for any signs of Charlie. Her body felt stiff, and her hands began to shake as she gazed deep into the dark woods for any signs of movement, but the only movements she saw were the shadows that jumped between the trees as she slowly shined her light across each tall, thick trunk.
A branch snapped behind her in the darkness. “Char-lie?” Her whisper cracked as she pivoted towards the sound.
Out of the darkness, a shadowy figure rushed towards her. Having no time to think, her flight instinct kicked in, and she began sprinting through the wilderness as fast as her legs could take her. Pine needles whipped across her face as she stumbled across the bumpy forest floor blanketed with tree roots and clumps of velvet grass.
She ran with no particular safe haven in mind. Not knowing who or what was out there, she couldn’t be sure whether she was running towards safety or back to the faceless figure. Tears began to roll down her cheeks as she realized that Charlie may have already been captured, and she was next.
A crack echoed through the wilderness as another twig broke, this time only a few feet away. Hannah froze. She squinted her eyes as she tried to see beyond the snow covered branches, beyond the darkness that filled the space around her. Her body quivered involuntarily as the cold air swept across the sweat droplets that formed at the nape of her neck. She tried to remain quiet and steady her breathing as she listened for any indication of where the figure stood. As the silence persisted, she could feel her heart expanding with fear.
All of a sudden, cold hands wrapped around her neck. One final, desperate, terrified scream escaped her lungs, piercing the silence of the night, before a strong grasp crushed down on her windpipe. Hannah struggled beneath the clutch until the moonlit sky faded to black.