(There are three points of view in this story. The characters are: The Woman, The Hunter and The Camper.)
She struggled to catch her breath, wanting nothing more than to stop, stop just for a moment. Her legs ached, her lungs burned. She felt that she must have been running for hours and hours. Her children couldn't go much further. Maybe they could rest, maybe he wasn't close. If she could stop gasping then perhaps they could find some place to hide. If he couldn't find them they would be alright.
As if in mockery to her thoughts, a branch snapped behind them. It was deliberate, she knew, to let her know that he was still back there. She summoned her strength, pushing her two daughters before her, and they began to run again.
"Oh God, oh GOD, please help me!"
He smothered a laugh even as he slowed his pace and allowed a bit of room between himself and his fleeing prey. She must have thought she was getting away. Well, she wasn't, no one ever got away from him. But it was still too early for the hunt to end. The most delicious part was letting them think that they were ALMOST safe before shutting the trap.
He had watched them, the woman and her two young girls, ever since they had arrived at the park. He had followed them to their camp-site and been pleased that the one they had chosen was a bit too far from any other campers.
He licked his lips. This one might not have to die. Well, not right away that is. She would die sooner or later, of course. He had watched her undress for the night and had been taken with her long legs and the cheeks of her ass peeking from under her panties. He'd have that ass before he used the knife on her.
It was too bad about the children, but Hell, you can't make an omelet without breaking eggs and all that.
What was that ahead and on her right? There was a flicker of light through the darkness. Hoping against hope, she turned in that direction. She tried to shield the child in her arms from the unseen tree branches that slapped against her. She wasn't very successful, particularly as she was now nearly carrying her younger daughter.
A shadow crossed the light of what she now saw was a small campfire. She tried to call for help, but couldn't force the words through her dry as dust throat. Then the shadow was coming towards her and her daughter was scooped up as an arm went around her back and helped her into a clearing in front of a dilapidated old house.
She collapsed on to her knees in front of the fire. She would have fallen had the other person not set her daughter down and turned to support her.
"Its okay, its okay. You're alright. What in Heaven's name is going on?"
She couldn't speak for several minutes, whooping as she fought to get enough air in her lungs to reply. Lifting her head, she looked at the other woman. No taller than five and a half feet, she seemed slight and slender. A few freckles dotted a face that could have been no older than twenty or twenty-one. Red hair was matched with green eyes.
"We always come here and go camping for a week at this time of year. My husband was delayed, his plane was grounded and he couldn't come until tomorrow, or today, I guess now. The girls look forward to this all year and were impatient so we came on ahead.
We set up the camp, had supper and then went to bed. Sometime, I don't know when, I woke up. I could feel something wasn't right and sat up. There he was, just a shape, a dark shape. He was squatting between my daughters as they slept, but he was watching me. He was holding a huge knife, bigger than I have ever seen before.
I wanted to scream but I couldn't. Then he warned me not to make a sound. He told me to get dressed and then to wake my daughters and get them dressed also. Once we had done that, he told us he was a hunter, and we were his quarry. He pointed this way and told me if I could keep ahead of him until daylight he would let us live.
I begged him to let my children go, that I would do anything and everything he wanted. He laughed and the sound of that laughter was frightening beyond any thing I had ever heard. Then he simply said 'Run' and we did.
And I know he's back there, not far away. He's playing with us. I saw your fire and hoped there might be someone here who could help us. Do you have a car or any way to get us out of here?"
"No, I'm sorry. A friend dropped me off at the park and I hiked up here. I wanted to be alone for a few days out in the wilderness. He won't be back until tomorrow night."
"Oh dear Lord." She buried her face in her hands. "He's so big. I don't know how the two of us together could stop him. He'll kill you too, but please, PLEASE, help me to save my children."
She looked at the young woman and was startled to see her face. There was no fear there, but rather anger that was building towards fury.
"I'll kill that bastard."
She had come, as she said, to get away from the world for a few days. Every now and then she had to do that. She had walked the woods at night, watched the stars, listened to the noises of the forest. She shunned all human contact during these retreats.
Sometimes she wondered about the old, deserted house. It was crumbling, but it still provided shelter. There was even an old root cellar under the house. Dry and warm, it was without windows and with a solid door leading down from inside the house.
Her oldest friend was scheduled to pick her up in about 18 hours. He had even said something to her about occasional reports of people missing in the area. But those reports tended to surface about any area if you looked long enough. Besides, she hadn't thought there would be anything here that could threaten her.
She looked at the sobbing woman and then at the two girls. One was about eight, the other maybe twelve. Rather than clinging to their mother, they both supported her and looked as determined to try to protect her as she was to protect them. Her anger grew. Nothing was more likely to enrage her beyond any hope of calming down than a threat to a child. One of her deepest regrets was her lack of her own children. Danger to one tended to bring out the monster that lurked deep inside her.
She helped the woman to her feet. "Get in the house," she directed. She lifted both children and moved quickly towards the sagging front door. "If need be, you can go down there," she pointed with her chin at the door to the cellar. "You can bar it from the inside. Stay there until either I come back or until my friend arrives." She grinned. "You'll have no doubt who he is when he arrives, but get him to identify himself anyway."
"I don't understand." The mother said, but hope was dawning in her eyes. "Are you going to try to draw him away?"
"No. As I said, I'm going to kill that son-of-a-bitch."
He cursed when he saw the fire. No one else was supposed to be over in this direction. No one camped here, or lived here. It was why he always chose to drive his prey in this direction. He slowed, becoming cautious. It was possible that this was a party of males, fishermen maybe, possibly armed. He was strong and skilled at hunting, but he didn't take chances either.
He crept closer, moving silently. Then he almost laughed. Standing in front of the fire, looking out into the darkness, was a woman. A single woman, who wasn't even as large as the mother. He looked around. The quarry must be hiding in the old house. If that other woman stood aside, well, maybe he would let her be.
He wouldn't, of course. The reason he had been so successful in his hunts was because he never left a witness. Or a body. He might offer escape to the intruder, but her body would end up down in the overgrown mine shaft where all the others had gone.
A frown crossed his face. It was obviously just by chance, but the new prey was looking directly at him. Using all his wood craft he slipped back into the trees and circled around. Not that he was afraid, but it was so much more exciting to surprise them.
Holding his breath, he moved in again. This time he was really surprised. Not only was she looking right at him again, but she had advanced to stand between him and the house. He moved back until he could barely see the fire and resumed circling.
Damn. How did she do that? She was still between him and the old house, and still watching as though she could see him. Even when the fire was blocked by the house, eliminating any chance of a reflection, she was still somehow tracking him.
Enough. It was no fun playing with someone who wouldn't play back the proper way. He rose to his full height and walked into the clearing.
"My, he WAS a big one," was her first thought when he came into the light. She shrugged and turned back to the fire. Picking up a burning twig, she shook a cigarette from the one pack she had left and lit it.
The simple question seemed to baffle the towering man. He blinked and uncertainty crossed his face. She could tell that this was the part where she was supposed to scream and blubber and wail. Well, she didn't do much of that, hadn't in a long time.
He opened his mouth. Before he could speak she interrupted him.
"If you're about to say 'I am death' or some other foolishness, let me save you the trouble. I've heard all the wacky statements from nut cases who would put you to shame. You can color me unimpressed." He gaped at her, his mouth moving but no words came out.
How DARE she? Who did she think she was? Maybe some martial artist who thought she could kung-fu herself out of this? Maybe she was armed. His eyes narrowed as he swept his gaze over her. He saw no sign of weapons. He lifted the knife and let the light from the fire reflect off it.
He stepped towards her. "I'll make you the same offer I made her." He jerked his head towards the old house. "If you can keep ahead of me until daylight, I'll let you live. You'll even have a running start, because I'm going to finish them first."
"The only one about to be finished here is you." She watched calmly as he lunged towards her, his face twisted in anger. She side-stepped him easily and he went sprawling. Quickly, she stepped behind him and kicked him. She took one last deep drag on her cigarette and carefully tossed it into the fire.
He roared as he regained his feet and stalked towards her. This time he was more careful, feinting left and right and making short thrusts with the tip of the knife. She danced away from him, not seeming to notice that he was working her towards an angle of the old house. When she stepped back one more time, he snarled and swung the knife in an upward stroke intended to rip her open.
"What the HELL?" Faster than his eyes could follow, the woman had reached out with her left hand and caught his wrist, halting his thrust. His muscles bulged as he strove to drive the knife home. She never even blinked as she continued to hold him at bay. Without thinking, he clamped his other hand on his wrist and shoved with both arms until the veins stood out on his forehead.
She suddenly twisted her wrist and he fell heavily to the ground again, losing his grip on the knife. She walked over, picked it up and balanced it for a moment. Then with a quick flip she threw it, burying the blade in the dirt beside him.
"Want to try it again?"
He staggered to his feet. "You BITCH." Scooping up the knife he advanced on her again.
Damn, this was just about fun. She did love a knucklehead who had to have the facts of life pounded into his, or sometimes her, skull. She darted to one side and slapped him in the face as he went by. He spun, dropping the knife and caught her in a bear hug. He lifted her from her feet.
"I'll break you in two. I've killed more than once like this."
A muffled whimper came from the house. It sounded like one of the girls. They apparently thought she was about to lose the fight. Okay then, she didn't want them scared any more than they had been already. She simply snapped her arms away from her body, breaking his hold as though it was a child's grip. She followed with a one-two punch that stretched him dazed on the ground.