As Harry looked at the gaping wound in his thigh, he was reminded of what they’d said: Getting away would be good, getting away would be refreshing.
Assholes, all of them.
Harry did his best to stand, using a nearby Spruce to relieve some of the weight from his wounded leg. Surrounding him, as far as he could see, tall trees grasped at the sky, blocking all but the thinnest shimmer of light between their branches. Their bright green needles blocked the wind from above, and the billions of dead brown ancestors covering the ground made for a kind of quiet that some would call transcendent. Harry would call it unnerving.
For beyond this Robert Frost of a setting, somewhere beyond the tree beyond the tree beyond the tree, the beast lurked. Waiting. Taunting. Harry’s only chance for survival was to make it to the cabin. He looked at his wound again. So much blood, so deep, walking would never be the same again. A cloud passed beneath the sun. Or was it just his vision slipping?
The cabin. Must get to the cabin. Quickly, Quietly…
Harry cried out as he took his first step, nearly collapsing. The pain brought an aftershock of nausea, but Harry held on. The cabin was not far, he could do this.
As he lurched and winced his way forward, an owl high above took interest. It was early in the evening, still far too bright for an owl’s proper vision, but this was not to be missed, the beast taking it’s prey…
An hour later, or was it a day, or a few minutes? Harry could not tell, each movement had been its own eternity, separate from this universe, this pastoral pastiche of foliage surrounding him. Who’s idea was it again to come out here? Ruth’s? Had she ever even been out of town? Harry seemed to remember a Thomas Kinkade painting or two hanging from her walls. What did she know of the wilderness, what did Kinkade? Painter of Light, ha! If that hack had seen what Harry had been privvy to just before dawn, he would have put down the paintbrush and picked up the sword… for fear, for protection… Harry looked further ahead, it was hard to make out much, the evening light was dying.
Further on and Harry was limping in sheer darkness, the only sound coming from the shuffling of his feet and some distant owl. The cabin had to be close, even with his beleaguered pace, he had travelled far enough. If only he had thought to leave a light on, some beacon. Ruth would have thought of that, she would have thought how “Kinkadian” it would be to have a warm light glowing through the windows of his quaint cabin in this bucolic setting.
Harry heard a snap. not close, but not far either. The hoot of the Owl was suddenly absent as well… Maybe it was an animal. There had to be some out here, right? Something else for the beast to hunt besides Harry. This couldn’t be just about him, could it? Harry was unsure whether he liked that idea or hated it.
Harry’s heartbeat picked up. His leg began to throb. Shit. This was it. The fucking beast was toying with him. All he wanted was to come out here and let go of Ruth – her departure, her absence, to find peace. And now this. Imminent death.
“WELL COME ON AND DO IT ALREADY!!” shouted Harry.
He looked around, breathing hard. The internal chaos of his organs made his hearing almost useless, but his sight had improved, adjusted to the deep blues of the night. His eyes kept scanning, searching for anything that was not a tree…
And there, in the distance, maybe a hundred yards off, it was.
Harry took a few deep breaths, gripping his bad thigh in preparation for the pain to come, and… took off.
His teeth gritted and his legs pumped, one step faster than the last, adrenaline coursing through him as he zeroed in on his goal.
Around him he heard the snaps, the beast behind him and gaining momentum – crunch, snap, crunch, snap,
The owl was in the fray too, hooting overhead, it’s wings whipping.
Harry was blind with effort as he surged forward, terrified to look back, to know just how close the beast was. He seemed to hear it from everywhere, left, right, above, a cacophony of pounding claws or hooves or… mandibles… Harry hadn’t gotten much of a good look, and he sure didn’t want to get another.
The Cabin near, and Harry burst through, shearing off the door latch with his impact. He tumbled to a stop, and with the last of his energies, scrambled back to shut the door and deadbolt it- thankfully he hadn’t done that before he left, or the door might not have given.
Slumped against it, with his breathing slowing down, Harry’s curiosity piqued. Why hadn’t the beast at least made an attack on the door, a grunt of defeat, something? He braved a peak through the window.
And to his amazement, outside, gathered around in audience, were all the animals of the forest, led by the owl, perched upon the nearest branch.
But why, why on earth would they do that? Surely they feared him, at least some of them must, as an alpha predator in their chain.
And as Harry turned his head back towards the interior of the cabin, a warm Kinkadian glow began to illuminate the room, as the beast opened its fiery jaws.