Jenna's bare feet pounded against the cold ground. Her breath clawed at her throat. Fumbling through the dense trees, she was desperate to find her way back. With more then one wrong turn she was beginning to lose that hope. Slipping, she rounded the trunk of a massive tree. But the heavy footfalls were still gaining on her. Why had she listened to her friends? Why had she taken that stupid dare? Right, for that twenty wadded up in her pocket. If Jenna had had time to stop and sigh she would have. But she was too busy running for her life.
The girl's heart soared when she broke through the trees. The two hundred foot chain fence was so close now. Even the dark night couldn't obscure her joy. Her safety was just a few yards away. The loud rumble reminded her that the creature was even closer. Closing her eyes she willed herself forward and not to look back at the thing chasing her. She focused on that for a few short breaths until she hit the Fence. Ignoring the throbbing of her nose, Jenna dove beneath the rise in the Fence, not realizing that her pursuer had stopped. Safe where the creature could not get her she risked pausing long enough to turn around. A pair of enormous blue eyes stared back at her. The large figure took a massive hand and smacked it against the chain links casing them to rattle and Jenna screaming and running for home.
The church bells chimed twelve times. Every streetlight she passed beneath seemed to be leering, telling her how much trouble she would be in when she got home. The sprinklers were already on in front of her complex, but she ignored them. They had ditched her! Her friends hadn't even been there when she crawled beneath the Fence. Feeling the freezing wet metal of the complex steps snapped her from her anger and into panic. Her best shoes were in the last place they should have been. There was no way her mother would not notice muddy footprints tracked across the floor. She took the elevator to the fifteenth floor. Put her ear to the door of her apartment. No noise. Jenna knew from experience that that didn't nessacerily mean safe to enter. She pushed open the door, peeking into the dark living room. She crept slowly across the carpeted floor, not making a sound. Suddenly the kitchen light switched on and Jenna jumped with an automated eep!
"Where have you been?" Her mother wrapped her chubby, pale arms around Jenna before fixing her with an angry glare. "Answer me, young lady."
"I was out with my friends, Ma. Sorry, I lost track of time."
Her mother lifted the back of Jenna's top and rapped her hard across the behind with a wooden spoon.
"Mitch is out there looking for you. He's running all the gas out of the car. Your father is worried sick, though they wouldn't let him off work if the building was on fire. You know you have a ten-thirty curfew."
"Sorry Ma." Jenna muttered. She sulked off to bed, rubbing at her side. Her little brother, Elliott, was already fast asleep. She doubted the six year old even cared about how long she'd been gone. Jenna lay awake in bed, knowing that any minute her father would be nosily opening the front door. It didn't take long. After the door slammed shut there were a few moments of murmuring between her parents. Then the yelling started – over nothing but that stupid wooden spoon. Their marriage was great, there life and family fantastic, but their mother insisted on punishing their children with that spoon. Jenna rolled over, burying her head under the fluffy pillow. After running for her life, getting on a bus and walking eleven blocks home, and worrying to death over her parents' reaction to her late homecoming sleep came easily.
Her father's dark brown face was the first thing Jenna saw when she opened her eyes. He hoisted her over his shoulder, paying no mind to her sleepy groans, and walked her to the bathroom where he plopped her before the door. It was a normal Monday routine – getting hurried for school by her father – that Jenna barely paid attention to brushing her teeth or combing through her curly brown hair. She ate her flapjacks. Then went to get dressed. She walked with her father and older brother to the back of the complex where the lots were and climbed into their dented gray car.
"No gas, huh Mitch?" Their father grunted.
Mitch shoved ear buds into his head. When did he ever put gas in the car?
"So, Jenna," he went on. "Your ma gave you a good pop, huh?"
"Yeah, dad. One good one across my butt." She said, fixing her seatbelt. "But, I guess I deserved it considering how late I was out and all."
Her father grumbled something inaudible. Quite possibly 'I hate that wooden spoon.' She stared out the window at buildings and parks and streetcars as they passed and briefly wondered about the creature on the other side of the Fence when it came into view. Then it was gone and she was riding up a series of thin side streets to her school.
From the outside Minnion High looked like a juvenile boarding school for teens with murder and arson records. Its three stories of red brick walls, barred windows and chain link fence was intimidating to newcomers. But Minnion was possibly the brightest school in the state. All the teachers taught students at their individual levels and the testing records were highest by far in the county. Her brother, Mitch, had been a slow child, but with his privet curriculum at Minnion he was now working as a TA at the school. And Jenna hated it. She slid out of the car, kissing her father goodbye, and up the front steps to the blotchy gray double doors. As she sulked to the lunchroom her face grew hot. Her friends would be there waiting for her as always, but she was still angry with them for abandoning her at the Fence. The large room was already crowded with students waiting for the morning announcements, but Jenna spied her group of four juniors easily enough. The Kirth twin, Jay and Todd, scooted away from each other to make a seat for her.
"You ditched me." Jenna said before taking a seat. "I mean, you actually left me alone there."
Lindsey and Jay dropped their eyes to that table. Somehow the three shiest girls in school had become friends with the two most energetic and daring boys. Todd was bouncing in his seat, forcing back a smile.
"We know. We're sorry. We saw you running and it coming after you and the girls freaked out. But what was it like?" He leaned in so that only their group could hear. "What was it like being chased by a giant?"
"I never want to do that again." Jenna answered. She glared at Cody. "Twenty bucks is not worth it."
Cody flashed his jagged smile. "Not even a hundred next week?"
Jenna had no time to respond before the announcements crackled over the intercom – reminding students of the two band concerts form Northern High; the menu change from turkey to ham; to dress warm for the fall months; and the junior year field trip to Village the upcoming month. Only half the juniors cheered at the once in a lifetime opportunity to cross the Fence. Her friends separated to their different classes as Jenna though about Cody's proposal. A hundred dollars was five times her allowance and there was a ninety dollar flat iron that Jenna wanted desperately. But was it worth it? She tugged her fingers through her curly hair which she got from her father. The TA threw a pencil at her, scolding her to pay attention to her math. The class laughed, causing Mitch to smile.
Jenna spent the week weighing pros and cons, coasting from class to class as she thought about it. Cody wouldn't make her do anything that would get her hurt – the giant being that close to the Fence was just chance – but the idea that it may be there again was frightening. The thought wouldn't leave her mind. She failed her history test thinking about it. At home Mitch teased her about spacing out. Her mother rapped her with the spoon when she saw the grade. Jenna pushed and pushed and pushed away at the temptation. But Cody and Todd cooed the idea into her mind and the seed began to grow. And by the end of the week she was excited to get her flatiron.
"Ma!" Jenna raced into the kitchen. "I'm spending the night a Lindsey's house tonight."
Jenna's mom loved Lindsey so it was never an objection to spend the weekend at her house. It was a short bus ride to the single story, but a slightly longer ride to the Fence where she met her friends. The agreement was a thousand steps once she reached the tree line. Cody handed her a clicker to count her steps, then a wad of five and ten dollar bills. He knew she wouldn't take the money and run. Jenna adjusted the laces of her shoes, then the belt on her pants, just in case. After hugs from the girls, she wriggled beneath the rise in the chain links.
The tree line was a few yards from the fence. Jenna couldn't help but glance back at her friends as she reached the towering wall of trees. She stepped completely in. Nothing happened. With the occasional hooting owl and breeze the darkness stayed quiet. Once her bravery was gathered, she pressed down on the clicker's start bottom and hooked it to her pants. Then she began to walk. She continued to tell herself how easy it was. Just walk a thousand steps. The calm night eased her. She marveled at the different plants that mostly rose above her and how clear the sky seemed without the city lights. Her last time she had not paid attention to what was around her. Now she was grateful for the second chance. Paying no attention to how far she had already gone, Jenna paused spying a thick stream through the trunks. Bright flora skirted the edges of the stream, highlighting the lush green and red berries. She strolled along the flowers, taking in the peaceful beauty. When the stream took a bend, she stopped to just watch it roll over the rocks.
"Hmm, what's this?"
Jenna froze. She closed her eyes, imagined not hearing the voice. Then she spun on her heels. Looking down on her with piercing blue orbs was a giant. Nothing much could be made out in the dark trees, but Jenna was certain it was the same one that chased her the previous week. He arched his back, stretching against a tree. The groan he emitted sounded more like a low growl causing Jenna to jump. The giant stood, licking his lips. Jenna took off in a sprint without thinking. She assumed her feet were taking her in the right direction. It was déjà vu. The creature so close behind. Losing her balance more than normal, not knowing really where she was going. Regretting crawling under the Fence in the first place. She was sure that the giant wouldn't allow her to get away a second time. Jenna began to cry, sure that her life would soon be over. She could hear him behind her – so much closer than before. Her shoe snagged a root. Jenna fell feeling her head hit the ground and sure she would die.