Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Bon Voyage (09/05/05)
TITLE: The Hunt
By Maxx .
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She willed the darkness to fold in about her, to cover her like a cloak. Her only choice was to hide; hide and pray that they’d pass by. Hope that God would blind them to her location, folded under the branches, trusting the leaves to block the shafts of light from the crescent autumn moon.
A footfall only yards away, the snap of a twig beneath solid boots. She gasped, her ragged breath a visible cloud in the falling temperature. Despite the cold, sweat beaded her skin and began to mingle with the tears on her cheeks. She stared through the gaps of her entrapment, eyes wide with terror.
She held her baby close, keeping the blanket tucked about his face, hoping he would remain sleeping until it was safe.
He kicked and stretched inside of his swaddle.
“Russ, where are you?” She didn’t speak the words, but they echoed through her mind as if she were shouting. Her husband had circled down to get the Jeep, back when the angry voices were still distant, before the sun had set, before the gunshot.
A flashlight beam sliced across her hiding place, searching, lingering. Every instinct screamed for her to break cover and run. She struggled to hold onto reason with a tenuous grasp, a control that was slipping by the moment.
The baby squirmed and yawned.
A man stepped beside her, muddy boots and torn jeans within inches. She could smell his body odor. The flame from a lighter illuminated his face as he lit a cigarette. He had a scar on his cheek that looked like a claw. He blew a cloud of smoke from his haggard mouth and spit into the leaves.
“Go down the hill. She’ll try for the road.” His voice was harsh, the words chilling.
They wanted her.
Figures, shadowed and murky moved away through the scattered trees, their lights flickering like receding fireflies.
She tried to measure time by the pounding of her frantic heart. Had it been seconds or hours? She forced herself to breathe. The men would be coming back, sooner or later they’d be there. She coaxed herself out of her hiding place. She couldn’t stay. It was only a matter of time before the baby cried and they were both discovered.
She crept through the pitch, struggling up the unfamiliar grade.
A light swept across her, followed by shouts from below.
She broke into a labored run, but her pursuers were making up ground. It was hopeless while she held the baby.
A wave of nausea crippled her. A cry of panic shredded her lungs. Images of her captors ripping at her clothing and dragging her into the wilderness played across her mind like news reel footage. The trailer read “Family of Three Found Murdered.” She squeezed her eyes shut forcing tears to stream down her face. “Please, God,” she choked, “please save my baby.”
She stumbled over a rise and blindly clawed her way through the underbrush. Kiersten stopped and spun about, searching for something, anything, to help them.
The crashing of the hunters was near.
A boat was tied to a makeshift pier along the banks of a lake. It was surrounded by an overgrowth of reeds. The moon illuminated the water, too small of a body to offer escape. She ran to the shoreline.
The baby blinked trusting eyes. He cooed in her arms and reached for her.
She forced a smile, “Oh my precious one.” She kissed his cheek. “You’re all that matters.” She reached into her pocket and removed a pacifier, slipping it into his eager mouth. “Father, You give and take away. But please, not him.”
She lay her child in the boat as lights crested the hill above. She pushed the vessel into the reeds and gasped. “Oh God, my baby… my baby!” She tore herself away, making certain to cross the searching beams before climbing once again.
Branches slapped at her from the gloom as she struggled forward. She looked back. Ghostly figures spread out in pursuit below. She gazed past them, through the darkness to the silver water and the laden boat drifting in the reeds. Hope lay there, no matter what terrors she would encounter during the night. “Be safe on your voyage,” she whispered. “I’ll come back for you.” She turned and fled into the mountains.
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