Teresa fell. Her hands splashing down into the muck saved her from a face of brine, but the resulting impact jolted something in her back. A muffled grunt escaped her lips. Had she any breath left in her lungs she would've given away her position. Luckily she was exhausted. Luckily she had been sucking wind for the better part of the last thirty minutes. Luckily she hadn't shouted and screamed and let them know where she was. Luckily, luckily, luckily...
Her shoes squished. Water molested her from her blouse on down to her socks, like a weight pulling her toward the ground, beckoning her to submerge herself in the swamp. Give in and let the muck take her.
"No." Her voice surprised her more than her own resiliency. That she still had the strength to speak shocked her. Hands on her knee, she pushed herself up and grabbed the nearest tree. Its bark fell away in moist clumps and she wondered again if the men chasing her would see that. Could they track her? Were they that skilled? Or were they just men with guns? Killers trained in only one thing?
Birds chirped overhead. Leaves rustled. And underneath all of it, the swish and sway of the water as it lapped at the miniature archipelagos of land around her.
That's good, she thought, though she didn't know where the thought came from. Some atavistic corner of her mind, rising up from the primordial center. They won't hear you. Be quiet. Be safe. And move.
Her feet carried her to from one spot of dry land to another. She hopped over murky streams with an ease she never believed she possessed. Adrenaline, she thought. And she didn't think anymore about it. She simply moved.
Clarity defined her senses. Roots and rocks stood out like mountains to her, outlined in thick bold lines like comic. Nimbly, her feet dodged them. Toes touching down between potential obstacles before launching off and springing her to her next location.
Despite her fear; despite her discomfort at the sweat clinging to her body, drying fast in the summer heat before softening and dripping again in the Florida humidity; despite the fact that these men were aiming to kill her, she felt alive. More so than perhaps at any other time in her life.
What's wrong with me, she thought, as she found herself leaping again, this time landing on the roots at the base of massive tree. Her arms found their way to the trunk and wrapped around it as she landed. Gracefully she pulled herself to the tree and in one motion spun around behind it so she could hide and look out at her pursuers.
"Come on!" The voice boomed over the glades. Birds responded by taking flight and, somewhere, something splashed into the water.
Something big, Teresa thought. And that atavistic part of her brain told her feet to occupy as much of the roots as possible. Not too close to the water, it warned. Higher. Up. Up!
She was off. Skipping--skipping!--from spot to spot, avoiding the myriad shorelines around her.
"Come out, come out." A second voice shouted. A chorus of voices assaulted her now, all cajoling her, all taunting. But beneath their bravado, Teresa could detect an undeniable sense of frustration. Perhaps even panic.
She smiled again. This from a woman who made a habit of saying "fudge," and "heck" whenever her temper got the better of her. Fuck 'em. She thought again. She had just been trying to do her job. To do right by herself and her city. They were the ones who should be running, who should be sweating face down in a river of slime, fearing that swish of water as something big and ancient emerged from the depths and carried out its solemn duty. Something it had done for eons. Before man ever dreamed of walking.
"It's over!" The first voice. Already she found she could identify them. She'd seen them, all three. The hunters. Two blondes--one dirty--and a brunette. The fourth hadn't spoken but he didn't need to. Jared worked with her. He'd been the one who she confided in when she found the irregularities with the budget.
"It's local government," he'd said, a resigned little smirk on his face. "There are always irregularities."
It was true. There was always something. Fines. Parking tickets. Parking meters. Permit fees. Money flowed through City Hall day and night and always there was something.
But the amounts she was seeing...
Teresa's knee weakened. No. That wasn't true. She'd felt her body weaken before. She knew what it felt like to lose control and giver herself over to fright and panic. This was different. Her knees bent. Her back hunched. Her body reacted to what was happening. It prepared itself for action.
Again she was moving without thought. Avoiding the water, she leapt along a line of stones protruding from the swamp. One after another one, her toes touched, accepted the jagged surface of the rocks, pushed off again. When her feet found solid ground again she repeated the pattern. Find a tree. Hold tight. Hide your body. Scan.
The voices continued to shout and scream, growing in volume but also in intensity. Obscenities flowed freely now. Vile threats. They bounced off her like sand.
They were afraid and she knew it.
"Tee." Jared pushed his glasses into place. They had slumped down his nose as he bent over to examine the numbers she insisted he look at. "I think you're being overly dramatic. I'm sure there are things that haven't been accounted for yet. Fines and whatnot. You know how those people are down in the clerks office. Everything can wait till tomorrow." Something glittered her caught her eyes. Jared's hand was at the glasses again, pushing them up the length of his nose. A ring