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Rated: 18+ · Short Story · Emotional · #2242642
Mary Ann didn't conquer fear. She learned how to use it.
3rd place tie in January's 'No Dialogue Contest'.

The first warning came with the rising flock of wild birds, their wings beat the air in a frenzy. Mary Ann Barker chewed on her lip, worrying out the situation. Had Spook, her German Shepard, flushed out the game? Most of the time, on the forest paths the two roamed, he blended in better than she did.

News of a predator stalking runners along well worn trails brought advice along with it. Never run alone. Mary Ann didn’t. Her guard dog was better than human company. She kept protective gear.

She stopped, feet rising and falling in place, feeling for the familiar outline of her can of mace inside her light backpack. Mary Ann practiced in her mind the worst case scenario. What if Jeremy Peck, her new jogging friend, was really a monster.

He’d insisted on meeting up today. Spook let Jeremy and Mary Ann know the dog disapproved of the idea. She had begged off. The stubborn look in the runner’s eyes made lies out of his following words, agreeing now might not be a good time.

Hearing Spook’s low rumbling growl up ahead, made her breath skip a beat. Beads of cold sweat drenched her skin. The sound came again. It raised the hair on the back of her neck. Something was definitely wrong.

There was Spook’s hind quarters, backing towards her from around the forest bend. His tail set rigidly in place. Mary Ann’s hand fumbled, dropped the can of mace. Her foot kicked it away when she reached down to get it.

She looked up to see the emerging figure of a man. A gasp of relief at not seeing Jeremy was followed by cold clammy shivers racing through her. This was no runner and he restlessly twisted a blood encrusted rope in his hands.

A pat on Spook’s flank launched the dog forward, teeth bared, ready for battle. Mary Ann’s feet instinctively turned into flight. She ran like never before, hardly touching ground. The bark of a pistol met the startled yelp of Spook. A bullet whined past Mary Ann’s ear to ricochet off a rock.

Splinters struck her, catching her off balance. One foot came down, twisted a knot of pain into her left calf. She limped, testing her weight. The largest shattered piece of rock turned into a weapon in her mind.

Fear made adrenaline rush through her veins, giving her strength. She turned with rock in hand, made a pitcher’s stand, let it fly when her attacker appeared. Bullseye.

Her days of throwing seventy mile an hour fast balls for community hardball paid off. She didn’t know if she’d knocked the monster out or done worse. She didn’t stop to find out, limping cautiously out of reach as she passed by.

Fear can work for or against you. Now, she trembled, weak with inner terror for the condition in which she would find her dog. When she got to him, Spook rose with blood coating his heaving side.

Mary Ann knelt, unable to remain standing, hugging Spook to her, examining the wound. The two bullets had sounded as one. The first struck her dog a glancing blow. It made him limp, which was o.k. She wasn’t going anywhere fast, either.

The two made their way further down the trail, not looking back, until they joined a fork in the path. A pool of blood made Mary Ann’s stomach lurch and threatened to make her heave breakfast up. A foot twitched nearby leading into undergrowth.

Spook growled. Sure enough. It was Jeremy Peck, alive but dead to the world. A long switchblade lay close at hand. Had he come to protect her or? The bottle of chloroform and rag used to knock someone out within a second or two after being smothered with it, rolled out from his body when Spook pawed and nudged the man.

Mary Ann felt drained. It was all she could do to dig her cell phone out of her pack and dial 911. Where there any good men left in the world?

The steady calm praise, with the cops arrival, promising rewards for capturing the miscreants, proved reassuring. Perhaps there were.
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