It’s turbulent times when you ain't certain who's the hunter and who's the hunted...
|SCREAMS!!! Entry 12/21/19
Prompt: The hunter and the hunted
Paul and Mark heard a howl in the distance as they lay rusty traps for the wolves in the white, crusty snow. Paul shuddered. Mark laughed.
"Jumpy there, ain'tcha?" Mark chuckled.
"Just don't like wolves, is all," said Paul.
"Well, yer in the wrong line a work then, my friend. We don't cry wolf, we kill 'em."
Paul didn't look reassured. He clearly wanted to head back to the truck right now, before the work was finished.
Mark grinned at his coworker's unease. Paul, the new guy on the crew, was burly and strong under his flannel, but Mark knew a wuss when he saw one.
The wolf population had been burgeoning out of control in the National Forest here, and the Forest Service had contracted Mark and Paul's employer to thin it a bit. They were just wrapping up a day of trap setting.
Mark noticed the dying light filtering through the clumpy needles of the thick fir trees. The crepuscule would soon be upon them. They actually did need to get back to the truck. He had forgotten his headlamp today, and the last thing he needed was to be out in these dark woods with an inexperienced wuss. He glanced up at the cloud-covered sky. There would be no moon and no stars tonight. But he wouldn't leave until the job was done. He didn't cry wolf, he killed 'em.
"Arright, let's finish this last trap up. We best get back to the truck 'fore it gets too dark."
"Yeah... just... getting this... last one... AHHH!" Paul emphasized the last word as he failed in his struggle to push the teeth of the trap open and set the spring. He pulled his hand out of the trap, blood already dripping through his leather work gloves from the wound. "Damn it!"
Mark knelt down and spent a few more minutes setting the last trap.
"They give you a tetanus shot 'fore you started?"
"'Cause a stuff like that, dumbass!" said Mark, annoyed at the stupid question. "We'll getcha one when we get back, just in case. Now, let's get outta here."
"Works for me," said Paul, relieved to finally be moving.
The two men crunched through the snow, following their footprints back.
"Ever even seen a wolf, Paul?" asked Mark, genuinely curious.
"Nope. Never have. You?"
Mark wasn't surprised. He chuckled again. If Paul only knew...
"Yeah. I seen plenty. See this here scar?" Mark rolled up his sleeve, showing a hairless jagged trail of dark pink skin that traveled like lightning up his arm on both sides.
"Yeah. Had a wolf try'n bite my arm off once. Had to pull it from his teeth! Wolves ain't no joke, Paul. If they get a scent on yer blood there 'fore we get to the truck, 's gonna be a lot tougher to avoid 'em."
"Well, that's just what I need my first day on the job," said Paul.
Mark gave another dark laugh.
Two more howls sounded from the woods. They sounded closer. The shadows were growing longer on the gray snow.
"Those ones sounded close. Let's get movin'," said Mark.
Paul nodded his agreement, good hand holding the injured one, blood dripping on his jacket, his pants, and the ground.
The two men moved quickly in a half-jog, half-walk. Where was the truck? Shouldn't they be there by now?
Four howls sounded, coming from either side and behind. The wolves were really close now.
"Let's run!" said Mark in an urgent whisper. "They musta scented your hand!"
Paul's eyes went wide with terror.
The two men began to run, slipping unsteadily on the black snow as they went. It was dark now, the last vestiges of light slipping through the grasp of ebony forest needles.
The men heard the soft patter of animal feet on snow. The wolves were closing fast.
Mark slowed to a halt and swung the rifle off his back with practiced ease. He lined the sight, slowly turning in place, searching for a target in the pitch darkness. He saw nothing, but he heard it.
A patter approached. A snarl.
Paul screamed and went down. Mark swung the gun in his direction. He couldn't see anything in the absolute darkness. He heard growling biting, struggling, crunches of snow. Then, a crunch of something else. He felt hot liquid squirt onto his face.
Blood. Had to be.
No answer came. Paul was either dead or about to be.
Mark threw down the rifle, useless junk without the use of his sight. He wanted to run. Which direction? After whirling around with the rifle, he had lost track of the way. Why had he done that? He should have simply kept running! He picked a direction and sprinted.
The pitter-patter of his racing heart matched that of soft paws closing fast. A surge of adrenaline fueled another burst of speed. Could he make it?
He had his answer when his steps suddenly crunched on gravel. He was to the road. The truck was only yards away. The wolves' feet hadn't hit the road yet, still brushing on snow, so he knew he had a few steps' advantage. He could do it! He was nearly there. A quick smile lit his invisible face in the black.
His smile vanished as he remembered something. The staccato snap of a closing trap punctuated the moment. Pain lanced up his leg as steel claws punctured his flesh.
The last trap. He had set it and left it in front of the truck, as he always did. A last second measure for just such an occasion.
Mark fell to the ground, mere feet from the truck, as the footsteps of wolves scratched into frozen gravel.
Before he could reach down to loosen the trap, razor-sharp teeth sunk into him. His hands grabbed fur in desperation, pulling with all his strength. As he struggled, he felt cuts, rending flesh, hot, sticky liquid.
Manic, gruesome energy.
Mark's final, fleeting thought: he shoulda cried wolf, after all.
Because these wolves didn't cry human... they killed 'em.