It was quiet. The kind of quiet that makes you worry, makes you imagine all sorts of dangerous and horrible things lurking somewhere out in the dark. No insects chirped and chattered like little gossip mongers here, as they had only a moment before. No cars could be heard from the busy midnight street not yards from the park’s edge.
It was quiet, and Tori was uneasy.
She paused, one heeled foot on the path, the other on the grass. It was darker there, thick and black, pressing darkness. She shook her head. Get it together, girl, she told herself, and firmly set her other foot down on the damp, away from the gravel path. The thin heel sank straight down through the squishy earth with a squelch.
As soon as she had left the path, it began.
Distant drums beat heavily somewhere through the trees, deep and pounding. The bass reverberated in her chest, matching her speeding heartbeat. The same sound, every Friday night. Every time she walked home this way. She’d never had the courage to investigate.
But tonight she was emboldened by the Fainting Joker’s warm tingle, by the success of the day… she felt stronger tonight, more alive. This time, she’d find out what the silence meant. What the drums meant.
Her gait became more frantic and stumbling the further into the dark she ran. Surely the park was not so deep. It had looked smaller from the street. She kept moving, following the eerie drumming. It refused to get any closer.
And then it was upon her. So loud she had to clamp her hands over her ears. There was still no light, still no movement, just horrible, pounding, ear-destroying sound. It was everywhere, in her head, in her nose, her airways, clogging her up like a tangible gas. She screamed, and was drowned out completely by the painful music.
She wanted to run. To turn around and get out of there, back to the safe street. She wanted to run all the way back to that tiny little dive bar she had been so ashamed to call work. She’d live the rest of her days at Echo if that decision would get her away from the park.
A sickly hand grasped at her, she felt fingers close over her mouth and nose, smelling of salt and mint. It felt like a frog had reached out for her in the pitch blackness.
She screamed again, and found that she could not breathe. Another sickening, moist hand had closed around her windpipe. She fought, kicking and scratching and biting and scraping. She thrashed like some monstrous panicky fish. But slowly, the cold travelled from the hands into her blood. She began to freeze, to die.
She sank her teeth into the hand one last time, tasted salty blood. Then the cold reached her heart.