The girl ran through the underbrush, pushing aside the branches and limbs that whipped at her. She jumped a series of roots and landed gracefully on her feet, still moving, only occasionally looking behind.
There was a rustling sound in front of her and to the right. She stopped, peering and squinting into the dark. Hearing the crackling of leaves now behind her, she whirled, her breath coming in anxious gasps. Just as she tried to focus on what might be following, she heard more noises, this time coming from her left. She turned in a circle, her eyes darting around frantically.
"Come on out, whoever you are! I'm not afraid of you!" she yelled, managing to sound forceful until her voice wavered halfway through, completely ruining the effect.
As though to make up for the lack of conviction in her words with might, she reached over to a thick, low-hanging limb attached to a nearby tree and broke it off. Stepping on the branch, she snapped it in two and kicked away the thinner new-growth. Experimentally, she hefted the makeshift club, its comforting weight infusing her with new confidence.
"Come on," she whispered.
The woods fell silent, her rapid breathing the only sound in the air. As she regained more of her composure, this too became slower and quieter. In the stillness of the forest, she suddenly realized it wasn't quiet at all – a heavy breathing echoed all around, and it wasn't coming from her.
A guttural snarl from behind caused her to spin and come face-to-face with her pursuer. The scream carried half a mile or more into the distance, and then everything in the woods was quiet once again.
Giles paced slowly to and fro in his office, listening intently to the cell phone in his hand. He double-checked the door, making sure it was locked before moving toward his desk. "Was there any evidence of a struggle, or-or some sort of other explanation found?"
While he received the answer, Giles took a drink from the cup of tea on his desk, sneering involuntarily when he realized it was stone cold. "And her parents have no idea what could have happened, either?" he asked with a frown, placing the cup back on the saucer.
The Watcher's look of worry deepened as he continued to listen into the phone, clearly not receiving the answer he was hoping for. He resumed his restless pacing.
For a brief moment, an expression of levity flashed across Giles' features before disappearing again into a morass of concern. "Well, certainly I can understand their hesitation. You're neither a member of the police force nor any sort of detective. I probably wouldn't tell you a bloody thing either." He sighed. "Still, if they had any information to divulge, it would certainly have been helpful. What we have right now is painfully scant."
Subconsciously, he set his glasses down with his free hand rubbed the bridge of his nose. "No, that won't be necessary. I don't think you're likely to find anything further, but if you would, make a cursory examination of the area around the home – without being too obtrusive, mind you – and then come back. We can monitor any further developments that get publicized from our location."
Turning back toward his desk, Giles replaced the glasses. "Yes, that sounds good. We can discuss it further upon your return. Have a safe trip."
He disconnected the call and set the phone down on his desk next to a small stack of papers. Picking up the pages, he examined them carefully. Each contained at least two dozen names and addresses, many of which were either marked with notations or highlighted in one of two colors.
Slowly, with a furrowed brow and obvious reluctance, he crossed through the name "Natalie Listrom" with an orange hi-lighter.