Her head spun. And roared. Dull pain pulsed throughout her body.
Tess slowly grew aware that her back was pressing against something firm ... hard. Her nose picked up a scent ... pine. Lots of pine.
She slowly opened her eyes, and then the lids sprung wide.
Tess was in the trees. She glanced side to side. She sat on a thick branch. She looked down at herself and saw that some kind of a strap held her firmly against the tree.
She peered further down. Whoa ... she was way, way up there.
How on earth did she get up there?
Suddenly, her hands grabbed out, searching for the backpack.
It was gone.
"Looking for this?" A man's voice came from above.
Tess glanced upwards. Standing on the next branch above was a man dressed in dark clothing. His somewhat long, sandy brown hair, mussed and dirty. His eyes a dark hazel. In one of his hands was her black, bulky backpack.
"Please, give that back." Her voice came out in a hoarse sound.
The man squatted low on the branch as he carefully studied her. He then slowly shook his head. "Can't do that."
Tess pursed her lips. "Why not?"
" 'Cause you're in no shape to carry this thing." He sat down, his legs hanging down but just missing her head. "Look, you're lucky to be alive. You're banged up pretty good, so I'll be carrying your bag for a while. K?"
Tess shrugged as she forced herself to relax her tensed shoulders, but they throbbed.
"Got a name?"
"I'm Beck," he muttered as he scanned beyond the trees. "Rest up while you can. We'll be heading out at dawn."
"We?" Tess asked weakly.
"Yes." Beck stood back up. "No more talking."
He pointed down towards the ground. Tess followed suit and went instantly still.
One of the creatures half walked, half crawled to the base of the tree. It was once a man. A business man? His torso was bare, but still wore a suit trouser that was shredded. His back hunched as his spine seemed un-naturally distorted. His blonde hair was matted down with mud and blood.
She couldn't really see his face, but she could hear his panting. He was struggling with each breath.
Was he dying?
The once-man faltered and fell face-first to the wet ground, and grew still.
Tess shivered as she gingerly wrapped her arms around her knees, and closed her eyes.