My daughter disappeared during our walk through the woods. Part 3.

After a stressful night with very little sleep, I had woken to a note that told me my partner, Mark, was taking our two-year-old daughter, Rose, out for a walk. Believing their walk would take them to the trail, I got ready to leave immediately. I will start the final part of my story before I found the note, early that morning.

When I woke, it was particularly dark so I knew that it was early. Despite only going to sleep a couple of hours before, my body clock has grown used to the extremely early mornings demanded of me since Rose was born. I automatically wake up before sunrise even on the rare mornings that Rose isn’t around to act as my alarm clock. As soon as I opened my eyes, I felt sick with guilt for shouting at and scaring poor Rose the night before. Neither her nor Mark were in bed so I assumed he was downstairs with her, trying to give me the opportunity to rest.

Not wanting to waste my time sleeping when I could spend it making my actions up to my little girl, I decided to get up even though I felt fatigued. I dragged myself out of bed and made my way downstairs, my body aching all over and exhaustion overwhelming me. Though it was understandable that I was still tired, this felt like something else. I felt as though I had been drugged. I was drowsy and my limbs felt heavy.

When I got downstairs, the house was still. I wandered through the empty ground floor, my mind fuzzy. I didn’t seem to have the mental strength to theorise where they might be, I just felt confused. After shuffling around the place for five minutes I found a note on the kitchen table:

If you wake up, don’t panic. I’ve just taken Rose for a walk. Be back soon.x

It took a moment, but then the realisation of what Mark’s note actually meant hit me like a slap around the face. I knew that at this time in the morning he wouldn’t want to go far from the house. That meant he would be taking Rose to the trail – it the closest route to us, it’s not too far for Rose’s little legs and it is where we have always gone. Due to his skepticism, I had felt unable to share what I had experienced at the trail and even if I had then he would have sought explanations that involved diving into the eye of the storm. That and a mixture of my mental state when I had returned home meant that I had kept quiet. He had no idea what he was getting himself – and our daughter – into.

After glancing at the time on my mobile phone, I knew that they would not have left long before I woke. Rose is habitual, and her wake up time is quite predictable. I still had a chance to catch up to them before they got into any danger. I very quickly updated you all, then I threw on a hoodie over my PJ’s, slipped on my boots and ran out the door. Unfortunately, I left without thinking of anything but reaching them, so I didn’t take a thing with me other than my phone.

As I ran into the crisp morning air, my foggy mind started to clear as the cold morning brought me around from my drowsy state. My body creaked and ached but the sudden clarity of what was at risk had given me a boost of energy. The streets were dark and quiet and my boots pounded against the pavement with an echo as I made my way quickly to the trail. There was a low mist that made my skin feel damp and visibility was even more limited than usual.

It didn’t take me long to reach the thin path that led up to the wooded area. I took a moment to catch my breath while I scanned the area for Rose and Mark. The darkness stopped me seeing a lot, but I was fairly confident that they were not on the path. I pushed myself into jogging up the trail so that I could reach the opening of the woodland. I hoped so much I would hear them chatting as they made their way through the woods, but the dread resting in my stomach suggested otherwise.

Once I had reached the wooded area I could hear no happy chatter, so I looked out into the field for the building. With the lack of light I could not see it, just like the many mornings where it had remained completely unknown to Rose and I. Oh, how I missed those simple mornings. Yet even though I could not see it, I felt its perilous presence out there. I knew that it stood directly opposite the opening, so I jumped the fence and started to sprint towards where I had been less than 24 hours earlier.

A few metres later, against my will I suddenly slowed dramatically. It felt as if I had stopped running and started walking, but I hadn’t. I was still pushing my body through a sprint, except now it felt as though I was running against an immense pressure. Every step was a fight. It was as though a heavy duty wind machine was in front of me. The pressure pushing against me was unreal. Yet, the air was still, the night was quiet, all I could hear was myself gasping for air. Involuntarily, I had slowed to what would barely register as a jog, despite the fact that I was sprinting as hard as I was capable of. I was sure that I was running against nothing.

This went on for an unreasonably long time. A few seconds of running against such a force will exhaust anyone, and I was already totally drained to begin with. Still, I fought on, and after a short while the force abruptly dropped. With nothing pushing against me, I sprawled forward face first, collapsing onto the grass. I lay there panting. I was hurt, tired and scared. I swallowed it down, took a deep breath and picked myself up, wiping the sweat off my forehead. I don’t know how I found the energy, how I fought against my burning limbs, but somehow I pushed through it and began to speed through the field again.

Before long, though, I found myself in the midst of another obstacle. It’s hard to explain without sounding preposterous, but I’ll try. My sprint so far had been in a straight line. Though it was dark and I couldn’t see much ahead of me, the building was not far from the opening to the woods and I had not deviated from the short route that I knew would take me there. Yet, after a minute or two I still had not reached the building.

I kept going and going, running, my body pushed to its limits, my lungs screaming at me to stop and rest. I got nowhere. The situation was nonsensical. As I flew through the grass, I felt like I was stuck in an infinite loop of despair. I thought I would never reach my destination. There was a chance that I may have veered slightly off course on my way through the field, but it was highly unlikely that I would have got myself totally lost, surely?

After what felt like a lifetime of running in the same direction, I cried out in infuriation, doubling over with stitch, needing to catch my breath before I passed out. The opening to the woods was so close to the building, and I knew, beyond a doubt, that I should have reached it by now. I stood still and screamed in anger, pulling at my hair. I surely must have drifted off course, disorientated by the dark and monotonous scenery. Perhaps I was running aimlessly through the field, having somehow missed the building. Should I try a different direction? See where it took me? I had to find my baby, I couldn’t keep running around foolishly while anything could be happening to her.

I was so close to making the decision to turn another way, to run in a different direction. I almost went back on myself and tried to restart the route. However, at the last minute I decided that if I truly had got lost then that meant I had been running in the wrong direction for minutes. If I turned around I would only get more lost. So, I decided that I would not change course. Instinct – the instinct that I should have listened to in the first place, before I got into this mess – told me that I was heading the right way, and so I began to run again.

Within thirty seconds of making this decision, the outline of the building emerged from the mist ahead of me. It was just a few steps away! My body tensed and I got ready. For what, I did not know, but I knew I needed to be prepared for anything.

As I approached, the first thing that struck me was that there was a large, dark figure lying on the ground, 5 metres away from the doorway. I knew before I even got there that it was Mark. I glanced around for Rose, or any unheard dangers, but I could see nothing else.

I jogged up to Mark, kneeling next to him. His eyes were closed, his body limp. I quickly checked for a pulse and felt a heartbeat. He was out cold, but breathing. I moved his limp form into the recovery position then I pulled my phone out of the front of my hoodie and I dialed 999. I directed them to the care home, unable to tell them the exact address of the field. I told them I was in a field just behind it and that I couldn’t stay on the line as I had to find my daughter. Then I hung up.

I looked at the building. A faint light flickered through the holes that served as windows and the doorway. I knew that Rose would be there, but I knew she would not be alone. For a moment, I felt too scared to approach. I felt very close to the edge. This all was just so much to handle, physically and mentally. I wanted to slump down on the floor. I was scared and alone. I’m not a strong person, neither physically nor mentally. Truth be told, I guess I’m a bit of a coward. I just live my life and try and stay out of trouble. Mark goes to work each day, I take care of Rose. I work freelance at the weekend, if I get the time. It’s all so simple, so normal. Yet, here I was right in the middle of such insanity. I desperately wanted it to all end.

It wasn’t me in the middle of it all, though, was it? It was my Rose. If the terror of this situation was so overwhelming for me, what must it be like for a two-year-old? So I pushed back the fear and I forced myself forward. I made my way into the building.

I couldn’t hear a thing as I entered silently through the doorway. A fire roared in the hole in the opposite wall to the doorway, illuminating the entire space. A scent drifted through the building that reminded me of many things; spent fireworks, dying plants and roadkill, to name a few. In the far corner, the woman who had attacked me the day before stood with her back to me, her gray hair spilling down the back of her rags. Lying on the floor in front of her was Rose, naked and bound by ropes. She was staring up at the ceiling, her eyes wide with fear.

The woman was chanting in a low tone, words that bore no meaning to me but filled me with dread all the same. I wish I could tell you some of the things she said but it was not any language that I can imitate. Her arms were resting by her sides and she rocked gently backwards and forwards as she chanted. I saw that in her left hand she held a long, rusty blade. Her hand clutched around rope that was wrapped around one end of it. It appeared to be a makeshift handle, and looked like the same rope that bound my daughter.

I wanted to call out to Rose, to let her know I was there. I wanted her to know that no matter what happened, she wasn’t alone. I had to stay silent, though. The woman was so enchanted by her strange ritual that I suspected she had not heard me enter the building, so to call out would kill any element of surprise that might help me save my child.

I tried to decide on an approach to take. I wished desperately that I had grabbed a knife on my way out, but I had left so urgently that it hadn’t even crossed my mind. Could I shout to the woman, diverting her attention to me? Could I find something to throw at her? I looked around, quickly. I spotted the mortar and pestle on the ground next to the fireplace. I knew I couldn’t lift it, so it was no good. I was shocked to see that next to it was a ball of hair wrapped in weeds. Blonde, frizzy curls. My hair.

I knew I couldn’t use anything in the building, so though I was freaked out by my discovery I swallowed it down. With growing desperation I realised that there was nothing I could plan, no way I could have the upper hand here. As I grew close to melting down over this horrific situation, the woman’s left hand suddenly thrust into the air, held high above her head and directly over my Rose’s chest.

They say that when you have a near death experience your life flashes before your eyes. As the blade was a mere second away from ending Rose’s life, I can’t tell you what she saw but I can tell you what I did. Like a movie, I watched the first few minutes after she was born, this tiny, bundle of pink placed onto my naked chest, squealing and rooting until she found my breast. I physically felt her tiny newborn hand gripping tightly onto my finger as she clutched me, so totally reliant on her mother’s love.

I heard her first giggle, when she was just a few months old as I tickled under her chin. A burst of laughter from this little creature that could barely move. It brought tears of joy to my eyes then and brought tears of despondency to me now. Would I really never hear her laugh again?

I heard her first word echo around me. “More, More!”, she had squealed with delight as her father swung her into the air, catching her with his protective arms. He had focused so much time on work to provide for his family. He had lost so much time with the daughter that he adored so that Rose and I could have as much time together as we could get. Now he might never have the chance to make up that time.

I watched her take her first steps into my outstretched arms, as I promised that I would always be there to catch her. I heard her crying out for us in the night, afraid of being alone in her room, always welcomed in between her loving mother and father. I felt her little, clammy hands stroking my arm absentmindedly as she watched television, just wanting to remind herself that I was close. As soon as she was born, Rose had become the centre of our world. It would stop spinning without her.

Was this it? Would I never be able to tell her I loved her again? Would I never feel her hand in mine? Would she die, right now, terrified and alone? Too young to understand why somebody wanted to cause her harm, why her mother and father were not there to protect her? It felt as though my heart would burst with pain, with love, with the sheer desperation to protect my offspring.

Then time froze. The flames in the fire stopped flickering, the chanting ceased to a slow motion drivel. I was surely hallucinating, my mind must have snapped. As everything around me paused, Rose slowly turned her head towards me and she looked into my eyes, touching my soul with her gaze. Despite my crippling fear, I smiled at her.

“I love you Rose,” I whispered. Then I felt strong again. I refused to let someone take her from me.

I ran towards the woman as the flames flickered once more, I watched her arms plunge down as the blade speed down towards Rose. I crashed into her, somehow finding the strength to force her down to the ground, tumbling down on top of her. I heard the blade clatter across the floor as the woman lost her grip on it.

Though I felt as though I had just ran into a brick wall, I forced myself to reach across to the blade as the woman lay on the floor, a low raspy laugh coming from her. I grabbed it by its rope handle then stood up quickly, the woman lying underneath me. I raised my foot and stamped with all my might on her bony wrist, hearing the crack of a broken bone.

I ran to Rose, sawing through the ropes as fast as I could. When they were loose enough, she wriggled out of them.

“Stay still, Rose,” I ordered her as she sat up. “Don’t move until I tell you to.”

I stood tall between my daughter and the woman, who had pulled herself up into standing position and was watching us, her hand limp at her side. I looked at her directly and saw her face for the first time.

Her eyes seemed completely black. It might have been a trick of the light but there were no whites, no pupils or iris’. If it wasn’t for a liquid glisten then I would have thought they were bottomless holes leading to hell. Her nose was long and pointed, sharp at the end. Her skin was pock marked and cratered, ivory white. It was so wrinkled that not even the slightest hint of youth remained. Her cheeks were hollow, as though she had not eaten for months. She looked like she shouldn’t be alive, yet when I shoved her she had felt so strong. As she stood before me, I felt like she was staring right into my very essence.

What looked like a centipede crawled up from inside her rag dress, up the side of her face and into her hair. My skin crawled at the sight of it. I was revolted by her, but I was no longer scared because there was no room for fear. Whatever she was, whoever she was, my love for my child could defeat her. Even if Rose and I were to die, we would die together. It would end with just us, with nothing surrounding us but love. However, it wasn’t over yet. I had an advantage – the blade. I wasn’t giving up without fighting with everything I had.

I expected her to approach, to try and tackle me, but instead the woman started to open her mouth. I knew what she was about to do. She was going to make that hellish explosion of noise, the noise that had reduced me to a quivering wreck. That shriek that had overwhelmed me before could immobolise me now, and I knew that I could not let it leave her ugly mouth.

I ran forward, the blade pointing out in front of me. My shaking hands gripped the rope handle with determination. I didn’t think about what I had to do, I just did it. I sunk the rusted blade right into the middle of her throat. It pushed in like it was merely cutting into paper. I heard a guttural attempt as she tried to make noise, I heard a gurgle of blood, but she could not utter a thing. Blood as black as tar oozed around the blade, but thankfully it stayed stuck fast in her scrawny throat.

Taking no risks, I tackled her again, this time towards the back of the building. I wanted that bitch as far away from my baby as I could get her. I kept pushing until she was directly in front of the gap in the wall, where the fire roared. I guess I should be ashamed by what I did next, but what would you do in this situation? With one final shove, I pushed her right into it.

She landed into the flames with a thud. I bent down quickly and picked up the bundle of my hair from next to the mortar and pestle, shoving it into my pocket. I noticed a green liquid that bubbled in the mortar, but I didn’t take any time to further investigate. It was time to escape.

I ran back to Rose, picking her up and running for the door. I took one look behind me before we left the building, half expecting to see the woman running after us. However, she was still in the fireplace, her entire body consumed by flames. It was an eery sight. She could not scream out in pain because of the blade stuck in her throat, or maybe she wasn’t even in pain – she was smiling. She was making no attempt whatsoever to escape the flames, she just wriggled about in them. In what was surely a trick of the light, I could have sworn that hands emerged from the flames, clutching at the woman who writhed around silently. I didn’t stick around, though, and ran out of the doorway and into the field.

Mark was still on the ground, but he rolled over as we approached. He was coming round. “Can you get up?” I hissed urgently at him. His eyes were still closed. “We need to run!”

He didn’t respond. Though I hesitated, my heart torn, I knew I had to leave. “I’ll send help,” I promised, hoping he could hear all of the love I had for him in my voice. Then I ran through the field with Rose in my arms.

I sprinted through, worried that I would get lost again, but within moments I reached the wooded area. I jogged through it as the sun began to rise, exhaustion hitting me now. The fresh day’s light guided my way over thick tree roots and bricks and rocks that were buried in soil. Before long, I saw the flashing blue lights of the ambulance in the near distance.

When I burst out of the woods, one paramedic took a shivering Rose from my arms and wrapped a large blanket around her, taking her to the back of the van. The other put a hand around me, gently urging me to follow them.

“We were attacked!” I cried, as I caught my breath. “By a woman. In the field through the woods. My partner… Mark… he’s still there. He was unconscious. He’s coming round but he might have a concussion. Please go to him, quickly. I’m fine, I’m not hurt.”

The paramedic left then and I got into the back of the ambulance with Rose. I held her to me. This time, our tears were from happiness. I knew it, she knew it… it was over.

I won’t go into too much detail about what happened then. It was over and that’s all that matters, really. For the sake of wrapping things up, I will tell you that we were taken to the hospital and Rose and I were treated for minor shock. I was amazed that we escaped unscathed. Mark arrived separately. Thankfully he was ok too, other than very confused. I didn’t actually get to see him for hours as he was arrested on suspicion of attempted abduction, but we cleared it up and were reunited by the afternoon.

Mark doesn’t remember anything after his approach up the trail, when he got to the outside of the wooded area. He said he felt a pull into the field, like something was calling to him. The next thing he remembered was waking up in hospital.

I asked the police who questioned me if they had found the woman who attacked my daughter. I didn’t give them any more details, waiting for them to tell me what I needed to disclose. I wasn’t about to start blurting out that I had stabbed an old woman in the throat then pushed her into a fire. Luckily, I didn’t have to. They told me they had searched the building in the field very thoroughly, but had found no traces of a woman. Perhaps that should have scared me, but it didn’t. I knew the whole thing was over.

I don’t have explanations for what happened. I try not to think about it too much. I am glad I noted it all down, because perhaps one day I will want to come back to it. For now, though, I want to let it all go. I am very pleased to say that our lives have returned to normal. There are some differences, of course. Mark and I have always had a fierce love for our little Rose, but every moment feels like a bonus to us now. I’d say we certainly appreciate our family a lot more.

Would you think I was crazy if I told you that Rose and I still go on the walk to the trail each morning? Today, Mark joined us. He’s cut down his hours at the office a lot. I know you probably think we’re mad, but I can promise that I will never ignore my instincts again, and the trail always feel safe now. I know it sounds like I’m risking something, but I can tell you, with my hand on my heart, that I’m not. I wouldn’t go if there was any risk.

We even went to the building, the three of us. It was something we felt that we needed to do. There was nothing left there. Not even the remains of the fire. The mortar and pestle was gone, too. It was just an empty building, in a field near some woods.

I’m glad to say I can draw a line under all of this now. I might add, though, that the gentleman I briefly mentioned before – James Kimber, a private investigator – has asked for permission to analyse my story in some depth. I have agreed, and I have also shared with him some photographs of the trail. I believe he plans on uploading it all to his blog at some point. I’ve also handed over this account to him, as I think he would find the advice you all offered very useful. I hope you don’t take offence to this, but I want to turn away from all of it for now. So as of tomorrow, the account will be under James’ control.

I must stop writing now, as I need to pack our bags. Mark, Rose and I are going on a well deserved family holiday. We want to make some precious memories with our beautiful little girl, and celebrate everything that we got through together.

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