Hunter and Hunted
Ten Years Ago:
Like everything else on the farm, the pole building was old. As she ran in, flipped on the light and closed the side door behind her, she knew that the thin wood wouldn’t keep the monster out.
But all she needed was enough time to open the gun safe and load the rifle. The safe was at the back of the big garage-like structure. She hurried around Benji’s boat—his pride and joy, a bayliner, sitting on top of a trailer with its nose pointed toward the rollup door—across the floor to the safe and began working the combination. On her first try she failed because her hands were shaking so bad.
Slow down, Bug-a-Lug. Breathe.
Dad had hated locking up his rifles but Benji and Ruth had insisted. And they wouldn’t let him keep them in the house. Maybe that would end up being a good thing. If she could just get to them…
A cracking, splintering sound came from the other end of the building. The monster was smashing its way through.
You can do this.
She tried the combination again, slower this time, and got it.
Just as she heard the wooden door give way, Lexi grabbed the closest rifle, what dad had called a “bolt action.” A low growl came from inside the open space, bouncing off the metal walls. Lexi’s heart beat fast and hard and her throat nearly closed up.
She snatched up a loaded magazine from a small shelf in the safe.
On the other side of the boat, Lexi could hear the thing’s feet on the gravel, one step at a time. It was a crunkly sound, like someone stepping on corn flakes.
Crnk, crnk, crnk—
The rifle wasn’t loaded yet. Lexi slammed the magazine into the stock, pulled the bolt back and then shoved it forward again to load the first bullet.
Safety. She had to check the safety! She looked and flipped it down to the “fire” position. Swinging the rifle butt to her shoulder Lexi aimed at the back of the boat where the thing would appear any second…
Silence. Lexi waited, her breaths coming loud and fast as she held the heavy rifle in place. Where was it? The cabin on the back of the boat was tall enough that she couldn’t see. The boat was on a trailer, so if she got down really low she’d be able to peek under but if that thing came running she wouldn’t get the weapon raised in time…
Lexi took a step forward. The rifle was shaking now. Her shoulders were sore, burning. But she knew she couldn’t lower that weapon. Lowering it could mean death.
Another step. She tried to quiet her own breathing so she might here the monster, but there was only the eerie quiet. One more step and she’d be able to see most of the open space on the other side of the bayliner. But the rifle was getting so heavy. She was gritting her teeth and even in the cool air she had started to sweat. One more step…
There was a thud! Next to her the back of the boat dropped by an inch.
On the boat oh God it’s on the boat it’s—
Lexi skittered backward on her heels, into the building’s back wall, looking up. The thing was on top of the cabin, holding onto a piece that went up at an angle like the metal parts next to the windshield of a car. It was dark against the hanging fluorescent light, eyes like yellow stars, hunched over, patches of thick black fur poking from its shoulders. The claws on its hand were long, dark and sharp, scraping paint from the metal as the hand tightened. That low rumbling came from its throat, the lips pulled from its teeth as its head lowered. The body became tense, the way a cat’s would just before it leaped.
The sound of the rifle was deafening. It kicked against her shoulder and gunsmoke filled her nostils. The bullet hit the thing in the chest, blasting it off of the boat. Its dark form disappeared and landed on the other side with a heavy thump.
Lexi’s ears were ringing. But… she did it! She hit it. It was dead, it had to be.
But what if it wasn’t?
Lexi yanked the bolt back, ejecting the shell from the last round, then slammed it forward, loading the next. Taking quick steps she came around to where she could see the other side…
The monster was there, lying in a heap. Unmoving.
Letting out a huge breath, Lexi lowered the rifle and rubbed at her right shoulder. Tears streamed down her cheeks.
It was over. Now she just needed to go call 911. She didn’t want to walk right past it, not that close, and the only ways in and out of the building were the side door and rolling door.
Slinging the rifle onto her shoulder, Lexi walked around the back of the boat to the other side and then around the front. She took one last look at the thing, the thing that shouldn’t exist (the world’s scary enough already) before hurrying through the doorway, trying not to step on the ruined door’s jagged splinters with the foot that was missing a shoe.
The air had grown colder outside, cooling the sweat on Lexi’s skin. She felt awkward walking, with the one shoe missing and her thigh killing her where the splinter from the woodshed had gone in. Straight ahead of her was the back door that led into the laundry room. She hurried toward it, heading up the steps, although she was pretty sure it was—
Locked. Although Benji and Ruth never locked their doors, Tina and Dad always did. Lexi turned, winced from the pain in her thigh as she went back down the steps and—
That growl. That low sound like an old car engine.
It was back.
There was a rectangle of light from shining out the side of the pole building, from the doorway onto the ground. A shadow stepped into that square of light, a shadow that was part animal, part man. Its feet crunched on the busted wood. The shadow moved…
And the thing’s hand appeared around the corner of the building, those dark claws grasping. The head came around next, eyes glowing like the headlights of an oncoming truck.