Excerpt from the current WIP:

Stephanie had time to ask “what’s that smell?” but not time to scream before two thick arms wrapped around her and something wet and hairy clamped over her mouth.

It’d been a wonderful day, nearing the end of a fun camping trip, and though she was sunburned and bug bitten, she wasn’t ready for the trip to end.

She and Patty had left the boys snoozing on a sand bar to explore.

Really, Patty dragged her off to bitch about Adam some more. The whole time Stephanie listened, she knew he was going to dump her as soon as they got back to school. Knew Adam had started screwing Mira Ramon. Stephanie even knew Adam’d gone to a prostitute, and she was pretty sure the weird sensations Patty complained about were some kind of funky STD.

But Teddy made her promise she wouldn’t tell. She was kind of looking forward to once Adam finally broke up with her.

“He fell asleep last night before we could do it. He knew I wanted to, and he didn’t even care.”

“Lame,” Stephanie said, stepping over a log, and hopping to avoid a wet patch sucking at her Keenes. She thought back to last night. Teddy had not fallen asleep too early, and had delivered everything he’d promised.

“God, he pisses me off so much.”

“Have you thought about like, taking a break?”

Patty wheeled on her. Narrowed her eyes. “I’m not breaking up with him.”

Adam’s family had money. Lots of it. Patty’s didn’t. She didn’t know for sure it was the foundation for Patty’s unreasonable loyalty, but that was Stephanie’s suspicion.

“Just a thought.”

“Have you thought about taking a break from Teddy?” she snapped.

“Uh, no. No way.” She and Teddy were happy. Going to get married. He’d told her he was going to ask her dad for permission next year, when they were seniors. They would get married after they graduated.

“Yeah, same with Adam and I.” Patty paused. “I’m going to pee. I’ll be right back.”

As soon as Patty traipsed out of view, the entire swamp went quiet, and the hair stood up on the back of Stephanie’s neck. Something wasn’t right.

She wanted to call to Patty, but it felt very important that she make herself as small as she could get. She didn’t want anyone, or anything, to notice her. She swallowed, her mouth suddenly gone dry.

A slight wind rattled the leaves in the trees, and the water made a minute sound as it lapped against the nearby bank. They’d moved out of the parts of the Ocala national forest featured on all the brochures and websites. Now it was all oak hammocks and cypress trees, Spanish moss hanging off the limbs, almost touching the ground in some places. Palmettos broke up the land closer to the ground with verdant, spiked leaves. The water here wasn’t the crystal blue of the springs, this was more traditional swamp, murky and brown. It hid things like alligators and snapping turtles, leeches and water moccasins.

And something else.

Whatever made the woods go quiet.

She ticked off predators in her mind. Coyotes? She wasn’t sure. She knew there were bear, quite a lot of bear, actually. Unlike their grizzly cousins, a black bear would back down from a person. Make yourself large, and you’d scare it away. If it were a panther and it were hunting her, she was pretty well fucked. But they didn’t live around here. They were farther south, more in the Everglades.

While she thought, she scanned the landscape, willing Patty to come back, trying to catch a glimpse of what might have caused the birds and the bugs to go silent.

Behind her, closer to the water, a twig snapped. She spun around, looking for any kind of a clue.

A smell cut through the clean, sunny plants and mud smell of the swamp, through the earthy scent of life.

A skunk?

A wet dog?

What do bears smell like?

She sniffed again. The smell grew stronger, overpowering, like she’d imagine it would smell to actually be sprayed by a skunk. She brought her t-shirt up to cover her nose and mouth, anything to help keep it away. She tried to take shallow breaths.

“What’s that smell?”

Something took her from behind. Strong arms—stinking, hairy arms. A man’s arm hair? Too much of it. In her panic, her mind struggled to figure who had her.

He was strong, for sure. She tried to scream, but his putrid forearm covered her mouth and when she opened up she could feel the mats of the pelt on her face.

An arm around her throat squeezed.

He’s going to choke me! The simplicity of the thought made her want to giggle, and the fact that she wanted to giggle made her want to cry. She screamed out to Teddy, to Patty, to Adam, to anyone who could help. Her tongue thickened in her mouth. Her ears started to ring.

Floating

It didn’t hurt any more, and blackness crept in on her vision, narrowing her sight down to pin pricks.

Where was Patty?

The ringing in her ears intensified, and instead of black, everything exploded into white.